Emilee Briggs

Graduate Student | Department of Applied Ecology | NC State University

2018-19 Global Change Fellow

Statement of purpose:

Broadly, I am a fish ecologist interested in understanding how human activities impact freshwater ecosystems. My research questions focus on understanding the ecosystem responses to anthropogenic disturbances and the mechanisms driving the responses. Another large component of my research is to understand how to use my research to address conservation concerns. Currently, I am studying human disturbance in the context of urbanization. My research aims to understand how urbanization will affect lower-order stream ecosystems.

Description of research:

Urbanization is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Current research projects that 90% of the U.S. population will live in an urban area by 2030. Projected increases in urbanization requires understanding the drivers and responses of aquatic ecosystems to anthropogenic disturbances to manage and conserve ecosystem function and services. Previous research has demonstrated that urban land development is associated with increases in flash flooding events and instream contaminants, causing aquatic system deterioration. These local human impacts will increase the influence of climate change in these distressed aquatic systems. Current climate change projections predict an increase in the frequency of extreme precipitation events, which will exacerbate the negative responses associated with urbanization. However, the mechanisms that drive urban aquatic ecosystem degradation are unknown. Therefore, my current research aims to elucidate the mechanisms of urbanization driving changes in stream fish assemblages. I am conducting large-scale surveys to document the response of fish assemblages to land use changes by comparing community and population dynamics within urban and rural streams in North Carolina, which is experiencing one of the highest rates of urbanization in the U.S. My future research will link these measured responses to potential mechanisms driving urban stream ecosystem responses to disturbance. Specifically, I will use geospatial analysis tools to link watershed-level features to individual and population level characteristics of freshwater fishes. These results will be the first to identify if watershed-level variables drive stream ecosystem responses to disturbance and will provide powerful predictive information about how stream ecosystems will change in the face of increasing urbanization. This research aligns with DOI Priorities 1. Creating a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt, and 3. Restoring trust with local communities.