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Researcher Spotlight – Emily Reed

Spring 2018 Global Change Fellow

PhD Student, Department of Applied Ecology
Advisor: Dr. Martha Burford Reiskind

Every year the Southeast Climate Science Center funds a multi-disciplinary cohort of Global Change Fellows representing colleges across NC State University. Here are some highlights about Spring 2018 Fellow, Emily Reed, and the applied research she’s conducting.

What do you study?

I study how urbanization affects the ecology and evolution of invasive species.  I use population genomics and landscape ecology to address this question with Dr. Martha Burford Reiskind in the department of Applied Ecology. Currently, I am studying the landscape genomics of the invasive mosquito vector Aedes albopictus here in Wake County, NC and Palm Beach County, FL.

What (or who) influenced you to go into this field of study?

I fell in love with Biology late in my undergraduate career and developed an interest in population genetics even later. I was influenced by my undergraduate professors Dr. Angeldeep Kaur and Dr. Timothy Forrest at UNCA, who fostered my interest in molecular biology and zoology, respectively, and gave me the confidence to pursue Biology in graduate school. My graduate advisor (Martha) continues to be an influence and inspiration. Our conversations about genetics, invasive species, advocacy, science communication, etc., have cemented my interest in landscape genomics and nurtured my scientific identity.

What results are you finding?

I am finding that genetic diversity in Aedes albopictus is highest in more urban areas of Wake County. This is interesting because generally we think of urban areas as inhospitable habitats for mosquitoes. During mosquito survey efforts, we found far fewer Aedes albopictus eggs at urban sites than suburban or rural sites, and generally larger populations house more genetic diversity, but the opposite seems to be true here. This is an interesting pattern, and I will continue to sample across Wake County and in Florida to determine the mechanisms driving genetic diversity across these counties and explore their implications for control and management.

Who will benefit from your research?

My research with Aedes albopictus will benefit cities and public health. This species is a vector for human disease, and understanding the factors that influence genetic connectivity and dispersal can inform control efforts. The landscape genomic methods I use in my research can be applied to study species and populations of management and/or conservation concern, which could benefit land managers and SE CSC stakeholders.

How can your research be used to inform management decisions?

Genetic information will improve our understanding of how species will respond to global change, and my work builds on that body of literature. Landscape genetics can reveal corridors and methods of dispersal, hotspots for genetic diversity, and an assessment of the adaptive potential of populations.

What do you think is the most pressing issue related to global change?

There are so many pressing issues facing us currently, it is hard to prioritize. I am most interested in the threat that invasive species pose to public health, conservation, and ecosystem resiliency. I am also interested in how urbanization aids in the spread and virulence of invasive species.

How do you expect the SE CSC Global Change Fellows Program to impact you and your work?

The Global Change Fellows Program has had an enormous impact on my research. Because of the connections I have made through the SE CSC, I am integrating predictive modeling of connectivity into my research. I am also thinking a lot more about how to conduct research in a way that informs management. My role as a fellow has helped me meet students and faculty in different departments and institutions, which has helped me think about my research in new ways and has made me a better scientist.

How would you describe your research to a 3rd grader?

I study how mosquitoes move around cities and how cities impact mosquito evolution. This can help us know where to target mosquito control to best reduce their numbers and use less money and pesticides.

What is your dream job?

My dream job is working for the Smithsonian, either at their Tropical Research Institute in Panama, their Conservation Biology Institute, or the Environmental Research Center. My dream job outside of science would be a comic book (graphic novel) writer/artist.