At my undergraduate institution, Appalachian State University (ASU), I started whitewater kayaking in the mountains of North Carolina. Most of these rivers were dammed, so when I could paddle depended on when water was released from the dams. That got me interested in dams and their ecological impacts, and luckily, there was a professor at ASU studying dams, Dr. Mike Gangloff. I worked with Mike to publish a peer-reviewed article on the surprisingly lack of genetic differentiation between freshwater mussel populations above and below small mill dams. After that amazingly fun and supportive lab environment, I couldn’t wait to go to graduate school for more of the same!
For my Masters, I took a brief hiatus from freshwater ecology to do research on terrestrial scavenging. While this may seem like an odd deviation, the program was with the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab, located just 20 minutes from my parents’ house. I had grown up hearing about this legendary lab started by Eugene P. Odum, the father of modern ecology. Plus the research sites were located in Hawaii, which sounded like an interesting place to spend a couple of summers! I placed 100s of stinky carcasses in the rainforest and lava fields with remote cameras snapping photos of scavengers. I discovered that invasive species, like mongooses and rats, were scavenging invasive species carcasses. For my final degree, I decided it was time to return to the less smelly world of water.
Early in my PhD at Oregon State University, I helped develop collaborations with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Our research shows how aquatic invertebrate communities change as you move further downstream from large dams in the Colorado River, and how often insects move between small streams flowing into the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon. My dissertation research will increase our understanding of how dams impact aquatic invertebrates, animals that provide services to ecosystems (fish food) and humans (increased water quality). Throughout my career, I have chosen intriguing and relevant projects and volunteered with organizations to share my enthusiasm for research and water. In doing this, I have developed my abilities as a scientist and leader and have continued to have fun at my job. I am preparing for a career in an agency like the USGS, where I can have a large, positive impact on how we research and conserve our rivers. This daughter is going to stay in the water!