2020 - 2021 Global Change Fellow
Statement of purpose:
I am graduate student in the Department of Applied Ecology, working with Brad Taylor. I am fortunate to be from a beautiful rural peninsula covered with ponds and creeks, having spent most of my childhood in a wide range of aquatic habitats. I am broadly interested in aquatic insects, and I want to understand how rapid global change impacts their ecology and life histories so that I may help inform restoration and management practices. Aquatic insects are a taxonomically diverse and functionally important group of organisms because they contribute to numerous ecosystem processes, including water filtration and detritus processing, and they are a key intermediate link in aquatic food webs. Additionally, they are often used as a measure of aquatic system health because different taxa vary in their responses to environmental stress. Yet, there are still many unanswered questions regarding the life history of these organisms, making it difficult or impossible to effectively management or restore their habitats, especially as global climate change continues to alter temperature and flow regimes. Indeed, stream restoration, a growing practice globally, rarely sees the reestablishment of beneficial insects for years post construction. Without furthering the knowledge of aquatic insect life histories, efforts to protect or restore habitats are likely to continue to fall short. Therefore, I would like to contribute to the understanding of these vital aquatic organisms in order to provide applicable guidance to stream restoration practitioners.
Description of research:
My research, in partnership with North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, aims to improve understanding of current land use impacts on aquatic insect egg laying (oviposition) within streams and use the results to inform restoration practices. It has been estimated that three quarters of aquatic insects cement their eggs to emergent rocks in streams and that a lack of available substrate can limit abundance of those insects. My preliminary data demonstrates that there are fewer emergent rocks in restored streams and that those rocks are unstable, possibly leading to higher egg mortality because of rock roll and scour. This year I will manipulate restoration sites by increasing oviposition habitat within streams. If this manipulation successfully increases the diversity and abundance of insects within study streams, it is a practice that can be easily incorporated into restoration designs. This aligns with DOI Priority 1 of creating a conservation stewardship legacy by improving management practices. I will also continue to monitor substrate stability in restored vs reference streams. Lack of stability in these streams compounded with greater storm intensity due to climate change could lead to increased egg mortality even if streams are augmented with substrate. Ultimately, this project aims to improve our knowledge of the life histories of aquatic insects so that we may address their needs as well as adapt restoration plans to meet their needs in the future.