I have been working with fossils – the preserved remains of deceased organisms- to recreate past biological and environmental conditions. This helps us understand how ecosystems functioned prior to human influences, like the dam. I travel to Mexico – where the Colorado River once emptied into the northern Gulf of California – and use the remains of long-dead organisms to study, for example, the biodiversity, predation, and food webs of the past.
With this information, I hope to inform other scientists, conservation managers, and policy makers about the condition of current natural biological systems so they are well-informed when making important decisions. This is the goal that motivates my research interests and it is the foundation of an exciting new field called Conservation Paleobiology, where scientists apply what they learn about the past to modern conservation practices.
How do you think naturalists and scientists can use technology? I think technology provides an increasingly important gateway for naturalists and scientists to share their unique experiences and skillets with others. Google Glass, specifically, can bring the field experience to the next level by providing novel insights into what it means to be a scientist by allowing any person with an interest to see exactly what it is that we do in the field.
What is your favorite…
Soccer! But if I can’t have a ball at my feet, hiking in the mountains is about as good as it gets!
Nature-based memory from childhood?
Growing up I spent hours building forts and exploring the woods around my house in southwestern Wisconsin. There isn’t a single memory that stands out, but I will never forget the joy of spending my summers playing in the woods.
Ever since I was young I have thought owls were the coolest animals and that hasn’t changed even though I spend my time studying other animals.
This is a tough one! I don’t think I have favorite plant, maybe oak trees?
Place to visit?
This has to be the Bahamas, I spent five-weeks studying snails of the small island of San Salvador and I can’t wait to go back!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was really young I had wanted to be a farmer… and that’s the only thing I remember wanting to be.
What motivates you to work in nature? As I alluded to above, I have been enthralled with nature ever since I was a little boy. In college, when I realized that I could make a career out of studying nature, I knew I had found my calling. In addition to being infatuated with the natural world, I am driven by a strong desire to understand the world around us and to do more than just exist in it. There are many wonders in the world around us; many already explained by science, but many more that we are yet to even comprehend. In that sense, we live in an awe-inspiring world and Douglass Adams had the right of it when he said “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”
Hometown: La Crosse, WI
Undergraduate Education: Bachelor of Arts (2012), Macalester College (St. Paul, MN)
Major/Minor: Biology and Geology double major
Graduate Education: Doctorate of Philosophy (exp. 2017), Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)