Researcher Spotlight – Emilee Briggs

2018-19 Global Change Fellow

M.S. Student, Department of Applied Ecology
Advisor: Dr. Jesse Fischer

Every year the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center funds a multi-disciplinary cohort of Global Change Fellows representing colleges across NC State University. Here are some highlights about 2018-19 Fellow, Emilee Briggs, and the applied research she’s conducting.

What do you study?
Broadly, I am an ecologist interested in understanding the impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on freshwater systems. My current masters project examines how urban sprawl, or urbanization, influences stream fish assemblages. Specifically, I link stream watershed characteristics (land cover, percent impervious surface, etc.) to community- and population-level traits in freshwater fishes in North Carolina.

What (or who) influenced you to go into this field of study?
I have always had a natural curiosity for animals and the outdoors. While growing up, I loved to read through animal encyclopedias and chase after snakes and other critters that I found in my backyard. This curiosity eventually led me to work as a Junior Curator with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in high school, where I learned what a career in research and natural sciences looked like. Inspired by the naturalists and scientists that I had met during my time at the museum, I decided to pursue a degree in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology (FWCB) at North Carolina State University. As I advanced in my academic studies, I became fascinated by freshwater and fisheries ecology and the impacts that humans have on these systems. I was inspired to focus my career on understanding anthropogenic impacts to freshwater systems and developing ways to manage and preserve these critical freshwater resources.

What results are you finding?
So far, our results are consistent with what previous research has documented – that streams in urban areas have a different fish community than those in forested areas. However, I am excited to continue analyzing our data and tease apart some of the mechanisms driving the changes that we are seeing. In particular, I’m excited to look at the growth rates of fish in urban areas and to finish my GIS analysis of the different sample stream watersheds!

What is the most exciting part of your research?
While there are several aspects about this project that I am excited about, I am most excited about looking at urbanization in North Carolina. My study focuses on the Upper Neuse Watershed in NC and contains the Raleigh-Durham metro area, which is expected to experience the greatest rate of urbanization within the coming decade. As an urban ecologist, I cannot imagine a better area to focus on stream responses to urban sprawl!

How has the SE CASC Global Change Fellows Program to impact you and your work?
The SE CASC Global Change Fellows Program has shown me how to directly involve stakeholders in my science, and how to develop questions that address stakeholder needs. The program has also helped me communicate my research in a way that engages different audiences. I am excited to bring what I’ve learned about stakeholder involvement and science communication into my future research.

How would you describe your research to a 3rd grader?
I study the stream fish that live in our cities – the types of fish we find, the way the fish grow, the way that they eat, even the chemistry of their body!

What advice would you give to a student who is interested in getting involved in your field?
I highly suggest that students try to get involved in research, even lead their own small project, during their undergraduate career. One of the best ways to find these opportunities is to join the professional society at their university and meet graduate students in their department. As a graduate student, I am always looking for undergraduates to help with my research!!