Research and Teaching Overview
I am a biogeographer and paleoecologist that grew up in the heart of the US Rocky Mountains, in beautiful Colorado. I have lived and studied in the Pacific Northwest, Montana, Texas, and even southeastern Australia (a biogeographers treasure chest) . I spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, camping, skiing, hiking and fishing with family and friends, and through these experiences gained an appreciation and curiosity of the environment. I have a particular fascination with biodiverse regions and understanding the controls that have allowed them to develop and be maintained. My research interests are in the areas of vegetation and climate history and the role of disturbance, in particular fire, as a catalyst for environmental change during the Quaternary. Pollen, macrofossils and charcoal preserved in lake and wetland sediments, including their chemistry, are the main proxies that I use to reconstruct vegetation, fire and climate. I am also interested in the use of pollen as a geolocation tool in other arenas including in the authentication of food products such as honey and bee nutrition and foraging patterns. My work informs environmental policy and management, is applied and interdisciplinary, and has a strong field and laboratory component. My past and present investigations are located in the US, Australia and northern Vietnam, are experimental in nature, and address a number of important questions in the fields of paleoecology, ecology, geology, biogeography, palynology and forest management.
In my teaching, I strive to inspire students and provide them with opportunities to learn material on their own, apply it in the real world, and develop critical thinking skills. I encourage students to push their intellectual boundaries and continually test their mental abilities. My own long-standing passion for science and the use of the scientific method to solve problems is ingrained in this work, and I show my students the value of thinking scientifically.
I am a strong advocate for field-based learning, as it provides students with the opportunity to conduct science in a highly variable environment. Bringing students to the field shows them the applicability of science first hand and often serves to generate enthusiasm about research. In my classes, we deal with tough and controversial topics, such as climate change, forest and fire management, and species invasion and extinction. By fostering an understanding of the science behind the issues and discussing how it can be misused or misinterpreted, I hope to prepare future generations to tackle these complex environmental problems. My classes also give students a glimpse of the process and some of the skills and techniques that are used in environmental research. I encourage them to take their science toolbox and design and develop their own projects in their jobs or for academic theses. Because the environmental sciences are profoundly interdisciplinary, and collaboration essential, I encourage collaborative projects so that students may learn to work as a team and to think beyond their specific interest or specialty. Here is a link to the physical geography courses and research seminars I have taught.