Smith Fellows
Smith Fellow


Environmental variation creates both risk and opportunities for the conservation of biological diversity. Variation protects species and communities by creating spatial and temporal heterogeneity in ecological processes. This environmental diversity provides a buffer against unfavorable local conditions. Unusual or extreme variation can also put species and communities at risk by exposing them to stressful, or potentially lethal conditions. The implications of environmental variation in any particular situation vary depending on climatic processes, ecosystem responses, and land-use patterns. Consequently, it is necessary to understand potential interactions between these factors in order to design conservation strategies that use environmental variation to reduce risk and take advantage of opportunities to increase species persistence. Informed action can offset the natural tendency for risk from environmental variation to increase as the total amount of habitat in a landscape decreases. My research addresses this issue by: (1) simulating how climate, ecosystems, and land-use interact over time to change patterns of environmental variation, and (2) applying this framework to evaluate risks faced by vernal pool ecosystems in the Central Valley of California. The results of the work will help conservationists develop better tools for reserve design, understand processes underlying patterns of environmental variability, and manage local vernal pool landscapes to reduce risks associated with landscape and climate change.