Health and forests
As a recent Gund Fellow at the University of Vermont, I started a project looking at connections between human health and ecological conditions in Madagascar. Working with a fantastic team brought together by the Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, we've already looked at links between watershed deforestation and diarrheal disease in kids (trees upstream are associated with decreased risk for rural communities) as well as how forest cover relates to a trio of health outcomes in different ways for richer and poorer households (and the implications for achieving interlocked UN Sustainable Development Goals). I am working to build on these findings by looking at how forest cover and forest biodiversity may modulate malaria risk in Madagascar and whether and how forest-dependent insectivorous bats play a role in that relationship. We're particularly interested in co-developing agroecological approaches with local communities that would deliver health and environmental benefits, while also helping meet subsistence needs and delivering new sources of income. Though the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic made much of our field research impossible, our partners achieved amazing success implementing our solutions on the ground and we still produced valuable science for others looking to increase tree cover in Madagascar.
Scaling up tropical forest restoration
Much of my dissertation research at Princeton focused on the efficacy of low-cost alternatives to traditional tropical forest restoration practices. In Costa Rica's Área de Conservación Guanacaste, I found a living laboratory to examine how tens of thousands of hectares of former pasture have undergone a dramatic (and deeply heterogeneous) recovery into endangered tropical dry forest without a need for intensive replanting or site preparation. But what underpins the large heterogeneity in the recovery of floral diversity and biomass? And what does it mean for threatened fauna? In instances where conditions demand intervention to ensure recovery, can creative solutions still offer low-cost alternatives? In a case study on the ecological outcomes of an orange peel waste disposal project, we found that the answer to the last question was a resounding yes.
More recently, I worked on a project looking at the feasibility and safety of using coffee byproducts for forest restoration in Latin America. Check back soon as we look to publish this work.
I'm a strong, unabashed believer in picking low-hanging fruit. If there's a way I can help deliver impactful or interesting research findings quickly and easily, I don't shy away just because it doesn't fit the narrative for a particular line of inquiry. I think it keeps you sharp and versatile as a scientist and is an excellent way to multiply the good your science does in the world. It's how I ended up working up a languishing dataset on butterfly transects and co-authoring a paper examining the scales at which ecologists engage in our observational research. I hope this instinct and a privileged education at the feet of some true giants in the world of theoretical-, disease-, and population ecology and wildlife-, organismal-, and evolutionary biology continues to lead me in unexpected directions in the future.