Balancing food production, biodiversity & environmental health
SUMMARY Our research is motivated by the overarching challenge of how do we meet the food and land use needs of a growing population with the least damage to human and natural systems. Within this grand challenge, we examine the ecological consequences of land use and land-use change, particularly in agricultural systems. To do so, we often apply causal inference and geospatial tools to fundamental questions in ecology and environmental science. By combining tools and theory across fields, we strive to explore new facets and leverage large data approaches to make novel contributions to ecology and sustainable agriculture.
DRIVERS OF AGRICULTURAL PESTS & PESTICIDES To avoid massive conversion from natural habitat to agricultural land, production on current agricultural land must rise substantially to meet future food demand. One means to increase production on current land is to decrease crop loss to pests. While pesticides can be an effective tool, they also have a range of negative consequences for human and environmental health, and thus reducing the need for pesticides is a scientific and policy priority. A key way to do so is to understand the ecological drivers of pests and associated pesticide use. This vein of our research seeks to understand how local (e.g. crop type, field size) and landscape features (e.g. surrounding crop diversity, surrounding cropland area) drive agricultural pests and pesticides across time and space.
BIODIVERSITY IMPACTS OF AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION Agriculture covers an enormous fraction of ice-free land and as such, affects countless human and ecological communities worldwide. Yet, even in many areas of intensive agriculture, the effects of such technologies are poorly understood. This research focus seeks to understand the implications of agricultural intensification for both human and ecological systems.
ECOLOGICAL DRIVERS AND IMPACTS OF LAND-USE TRANSITIONS Large-scale abandonment of agriculture, perhaps paradoxically, is co-occurring with massive land-use conversion to agriculture. Abandoned land may homogenize land covers in low-intensity production systems leading to a reduction in biodiversity, or abandoned fields may function as a refuge from high intensity disturbances such as harvest and increase connectivity of suitable habitat in a matrix of unsuitable production fields. In this area of research, we focus on identifying the ecological implications of land cover change such as abandonment, as well as the ecological drivers of revegetation thereon.
COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS Land-use Change & Vector-borne Disease: Changes in land use have direct and indirect effects on the ecology of vector-borne diseases. For example, land-use change drives changes in abiotic conditions such as temperature and humidity, which drive key vector and pathogen traits such as development and biting rates. Additionally, land-use change, through habitat modification, can also alter the dynamics of ecological communities favoring some species more than others. This, too, can have important implications for hosts species, host-vector interactions, and the interactions of people with high risk landscapes.