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Graduate student spotlight – Alex Brooks & Cara Steger receive NASA & NSF grants

We are thrilled to announce that two graduate students in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Cara Steger and Alex Brooks, have recently been awarded prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Grassland in the Ethiopian highlands

Cara Steger headshotCara Steger, a Ph.D. candidate in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant. Congratulations, Cara!

The goal of Cara Steger’s research is to support collaborative environmental decision making. Through conceptual and computer simulation models, she will examine how a combination of local and scientific knowledge can be used to improve the capacity of managers to understand, learn about, and respond to environmental change. Cara Steger is building upon research that takes place in the Ethiopian Highlands, an alpine region undergoing rapid social and ecological change. She will use three modeling paradigms of increasing complexity to understand the sociocultural dimensions of the system (conceptual modeling), the ecological niche and invasion process of an invasive shrub (species distribution modeling), and the potential future scenarios and management options for the area (agent-based modeling). Nested in a socio-ecological framework, Cara Steger’s project will help incorporate learning outcomes to concepts of adaptive capacity and collective action, which ultimately will benefit the management of resilient socio-ecological systems.

Contrasting visuals of connected and disconnected floodplain

Alex Brooks headshotAlex Brooks, a Ph.D. student in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and Watershed Sciences, was recently awarded a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship. Congratulations, Alex!

In his research, Alex will use Landsat imagery to assess riparian wetland condition in the Southern Rockies and will link field and remotely-sensed information. In this region, human land use practices and the extirpation of beavers has led to a degradation of streams and the valleys they inhabit, resulting in a loss of floodplain connectivity and many associated ecosystem services. While there is a broad interest in restoring wetland ecosystems, there is still a paucity of knowledge on how current in-tact wetland conditions in this region, adding value to this investigation.  Alex will leverage NASA’s Landsat missions and existing geospatial datasets and couple them with reach scale process studies to conduct an assessment of riparian wetland condition in disturbed compared to intact wetland meadows. This will allow Alex to expand our ability to quantify seasonal wetland hydrology, assess wetland condition across the Southern Rockies, and investigate how wetland condition alters correlations between climate variables and wetland productivity. Additionally, Alex will use his savvy programming skills to develop a web-based interactive R Shiny app that will enable users to select a watershed of interest, view assessments of current wetland condition, and explore responsiveness of wetlands to climate variables.