Research Overview

My research spans ecosystems, from Caribbean coral reefs to the Amazon rainforest, but my different projects stem from a guiding interest in the impacts of environmental, governance, and economic shocks on linked social-ecological systems. I incorporate methods from different fields to answer my research questions, including spatial and statistical modeling, quasi-experimental econometric analyses, and qualitative discourse analysis.

Ongoing Projects

Wildfires and Forest Management in the Western United States
Collaborators: Laurel Larsen, Connor Stephens, Bill Stewart, Van Butsic
The forests of the western US have experienced legacies of fire suppression and more recent impacts of climate change, setting the stage for larger and more severe wildfires. These forests also represent complex social-ecological systems in which disentangling the different drivers of change presents a conceptual and methodological challenge. In this project, I develop a framework for comparing the relative effects of forest ownership type (federal vs. private) and changes in climate variables on the likelihood of wildfires, using panel analysis.

The forest around Dardanelle, California, two years after the 2018 Donnell Fire.

Livestock Grazing and Wildfires in California Rangelands Collaborators: Luke Macaulay, Matthew Shapero, Theresa Becchetti, Stephanie Larson, Fadzayi Mashiri, Lulu Waks, Laurel Larsen, Van Butsic
In recent years, both popular media and scientific articles have called for the use of livestock grazing to reduce wildfire risk in rangeland ecosystems. I am working with a team of Cooperative Extensionists and Extension Advisors to assess the relationship between cattle grazing and wildfire risk on ranches across seven California counties. We are using grazing data collected through landowner surveys and panel data analyses to determine whether increased grazing pressure reduces wildfire frequency in grasslands, shrublands, and forests at a landscape scale.

Cattle grazing in John Muir Land Trust, Martinez, California.

Hurricane Impacts on Caribbean Agriculture and Forest Regeneration
Hurricanes have significant impacts on Caribbean social-ecological systems, with consequences for human well-being and mortality, national economies, and ecological dynamics. I am interested in hurricanes as a potential trigger for land use change in the Caribbean, a recognized biodiversity hotspot. In the summer of 2018, I visited the Dominican Republic with funding from the Tinker Foundation to make connections with local scientists, NGOs, and farmers and lay the groundwork for my project looking at the effects of hurricanes on land use, specifically farmland abandonment and forest regrowth.

Coffee agroforestry in San Cristóbal Province, Dominican Republic.

Agricultural Frontiers and Conservation Priorities in the Amazon Basin
Collaborators: Aldo Farah Perez, Eva Kinnebrew, Megan Mills-Novoa, José Ochoa, & Elizabeth Shoffner
The Amazon basin supports many biodiverse ecosystems but is also the site of rapid agricultural expansion, which can pose a threat to established protected areas and to unprotected areas of conservation importance. As a co-leader of a Graduate Pursuit funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, I am working with an interdisciplinary team to study the interactions between agricultural expansion and conservation prioritization and discourse in this region. We are integrating methods from critical conservation studies and land system science, including remote sensing, policy analysis, and discourse analysis to understand the dynamic socio-ecological processes of agricultural expansion, conservation prioritization and the mobilization of resources for conservation, and implementation of environmental policies. You can learn more about our group's work at our project website.

Expansion of agriculture and cattle ranching in and around Jamanxim National Forest in Pará, Brazil. Landsat/Copernicus image from Google Earth.

Past Projects

Social-Ecological Vulnerability to Coral Bleaching
Collaborators: Dr. Sarah Lester, Dr. Reniel Cabral, Dr. Elena Ojea, Jennifer McHenry, & Brandon Owashi
We assessed the linked ecological and socioeconomic vulnerability of thirty Caribbean islands to coral bleaching. Coral bleaching has negative consequences for Caribbean reef systems and the human communities that depend on them for food and employment, and bleaching events are expected to increase in frequency and extent as ocean temperatures rise. Integrating data on each island's marine ecosystems, economic dependence on reefs, and governance characteristics, we developed indices of vulnerability that allow comparisons between islands and provide insight into potential levers for reducing island-level vulnerability to coral bleaching.

Fishing boats in Boka Sami, Curaçao.

Projecting Fisheries Recovery in Myanmar
Collaborators: Gabe Englander, Frank Errickson, Gavin McDonald, Dr. Kristin Kleisner, Willow Battista, Jennifer Couture, Dr. Kendra Karr, & Dr. Rod Fujita
Myanmar's marine fisheries are important for the nation's GDP but lack adequate science-based management. I worked with fellow Data Science for the 21st Century trainees and scientists at Environmental Defense Fund to develop a model for projecting the impacts of different management scenarios in this data-limited fishery. Our work built off existing research into methods for estimating key parameters of fishing pressure in data-limited fisheries.

Blue Halo Initiative
Sustainable Fisheries Group at UC Santa Barbara, Waitt Institute

Fish Forever
Sustainable Fisheries Group at UC Santa Barbara, Rare, Environmental Defense Fund