My research focuses on the dynamic interplay among the environment and the various stakeholders engaged in natural resource use. Specifically, I am interested in developing ecologically grounded, and socially just, approaches to community-based conservation in the tropical Pacific. This work is grounded in community ecology but draws strength from areas of scholarship like food security studies, political ecology biogeography, and sustainable tourism. I also maintain a complementary research focus in historical ecology, a discipline that uses historical texts and references to help describe environmental conditions before the collection of formal Western scientific data. My work is trans/interdisciplinary – linking the ecological to the social to produce more effective and environmentally just conservation and fisheries management. My research illuminates the methods and scales (both spatial and temporal) over which human communities and ecological systems mutually interact.
My research in the Pacific is centered on a long-term research project in the remote village of Nagigi in Fiji. There, with guidance from the community, I have carried out a series of projects with my undergraduate students focusing on the interrelationships among natural resource use, gender, globalization, and political ecology. For example, we have looked at how a protected marine reserve would differentially impact men and women fishers differently. Similarly, in a project lead by my undergraduate student, as part of her senior thesis research, we interviewed multiple generations of fishers in the community to document shifts about perceptions of reef health and food availability over time. We are currently expanding these patterns in two new avenues. First we are investigating community valuation of mangroves and comparing those with the values ascribed to mangroves by large NGOs in New York, DC and Suva (Fiji) to examine the potential political inefficiencies brought about by valuation misalignment. We are also looking at how partners of fisheries resiliency differ as we move across biodiversity gradients. Essentially asking if fisheries are more resilient in high diversity areas than in low diversity areas – and then to ask if men and women fishers experience that diversity differently.
The second theme I am interested in investigating is historical ecology. This field, which uses a variety of data to describe environmental conditions prior to the onset of formal scientific investigations, is important in setting baselines for conservation. I have looked at ancient shark tooth weapons from the Gilbert Islands to reconstruct ancient apex predatory communities, where we have identified two species of sharks that were extirpated prior to our first explorations of the region. I have also worked with colleagues to help explicitly draw links between historical ecology and conservation. Lastly, I blended teaching and research by teaching a seminar on Historical Ecology which resulted in a paper based on data from the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
I am interested in quantifying community level connectivity among populations. Much of this work has taken place in reefs in the South Pacific. I have used a variety of molecular genetic techniques to understand the spatial scales over which reefs are connected using comparative phylogeographic methods. At deeper evolutionary scales, I have also been using merisitic and morphological data to describe new endemic species throughout the region and to understand the phylogenetics of widespread species. I have brought these themes together in an explicit conservation context by working with the Fijian government to help incorporate these empirically derived data into their national system of marine protected areas.
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