Climate Change and Species Interactions
My current research investigates how changes in climate (such as rapid temperature and/or precipitation changes - with the potential to induce periods of flooding or drying in streams) could be impacting competition and predator-prey interactions.
For instance, a large portion of my research focuses on understanding how factors such as climate change and competition with non-native warmwater species impact juvenile Atlantic salmon in Maine streams. Prior to being listed as a Federally Endangered species, Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) were once abundant in Maine’s freshwaters. Now Maine harbors the last wild populations of Atlantic salmon in the United States. Juvenile salmon spend about 2-3 years in Maine streams before undergoing physiological changes that allow them to survive in the marine environment (where they will spend another 1-3 years before returning to freshwater to spawn). This means that the time juvenile salmon spend in Maine streams is a critical stage in their life history.
Unfortunately, salmon face several threats as juveniles. Two of these threats are changes in climate which have the potential to occur rapidly and unpredictably, as well as competition from introduced and invasive species, such as smallmouth bass, which could outcompete salmon for both space and resources.
In order to gain insight into this issue, we are conducting a series of experiments in both controlled artificial stream environments and more natural mesocosm setups. We are also analyzing long-term datasets provided by state agencies that contain historical data on salmon presence and stocking. Using this approach, we hope to contribute to recovery efforts by informing adaptive management strategies for Atlantic salmon in Maine. Beyond the scope of our salmon project, I have a strong interest in assessing the role that thermal gradients play in impacting species interactions; with an emphasis on fluctuating temperature in comparison to mean temperature changes.
To-date, much of the research that examines how species interactions are impacted by thermal changes have been carried out by examining interactions between species as mean temperature changes, leaving that of fluctuating temperature to be underrepresented in scientific literature.
As a final note, I strive to integrate interdisciplinary approaches into my research objectives, and at the very least incorporate interdisciplinary perspectives to the subject at hand. Most issues are complex and multifaceted, with linkages stemming from one discipline to the next.
For this reason, I am part of an interdisciplinary research project which explores relationships between local ecological knowledge and scientific knowledge as a means to help inform a shift to adaptive management strategies in Maine’s coastal fisheries.