A woman holds a fish, pretending to kiss it.

UGA graduate student brings public education to freshwater conservation, GIS mapping

It’s fitting that Carleisha Hanns grew up to be a cartographer—her early life spanned continents. She was born in Belgium and raised in Tennessee by military parents who lived and worked all around the world before her birth. 

The Odum School of Ecology graduate student and 2022 James E. Butler Fellow now applies leading mapping technology to ecological conservation. Among other projects, she’s determining the suitability of stream restoration sites through GIS—or geographic information systems, digital tools used to visualize and analyze geographic data. 

“I’m really passionate about using science to create management strategies for practitioners,” said Hanns, a River Basin Center student affiliate working in the Wenger-Freeman lab.

Science education through the years

Hanns credits her initial interest in science to two things—her father’s investment in nature and her science teachers’ passion. 

“I was always trying to bring some animal home, and my parents would just say, ‘You cannot take this box turtle. That’s illegal,’” quipped Hanns.

Her dad taught her about bugs and plants, and her whole family—including her two older brothers—spent a lot of time outdoors.

Her early education was hugely influential, too.

“In high school and middle school, I had really brilliant science teachers,” said Hanns. “They were all women and just very inspiring and knowledgeable. That really left a mark on me. I really liked learning about the world that I live in and trying to understand how it works.” 

She’s continued their legacy, offering representation to the next generation.

While in Colorado, she spoke at the Denver Natural Science Museum’s Girls & Science program, which introduces girls of all different ages to a range of science careers. 

She made her way there after earning her bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Tennessee, where she discovered her interest in freshwater ecology.

A woman stands in a bright green field, the sky visible behind her.
Conservation easement monitoring in Steam Boat Springs, Colorado. (TNC)

After a stint at Disney World educating people about conservation practices, Hanns pivoted to a role at Conservation Fish Hatcheries Inc. There, she propagated rare and endangered fish throughout the Southeast.

She began teaching herself GIS, expanding on skills built during her undergraduate degree. That was when she saw an early career opportunity with The Nature Conservancy’s Denver chapter. She moved to Colorado and undertook several mapping projects for conservation efforts. Hanns gained an appreciation for the breadth of the work. 

“I got to see all the moving parts that make conservation work,” she explained. 

In the field

It was her love of her job with The Nature Conservancy that made her want to enroll in graduate school. To continue doing the kind of hands-on work she loved, she knew she needed to pursue another degree. She turned to the River Basin Center at UGA, whose mission closely aligns with her passion for applied freshwater science. 

TNC staff Teresa Chapman and Carleisha Hanns, two women, stand in a forest.
Reforestation seeding experiment in the recently burned 2020 wildfire area at the Cal-Wood Environmental Education Center with TNC staff Teresa Chapman and Carleisha Hanns. (Catherine Schloegel, TNC)

“I saw the ICAS program—the integrative conservation and sustainability program—and I thought, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do.’ I want to work on conservation projects and planning, and I want it to be in freshwater,” said Hanns.

The Nature Conservancy kept her on part-time, and she’s continued her mapping work with them alongside her graduate studies. 

She isn’t exactly sure what direction her thesis will take. Right now, her work centers on the Conasauga River Basin and how shoals impact fish populations. With shoals disappearing, some benthic fish like darters may experience disruption to their life cycle or have a harder time moving around.

“I’m interested in understanding if the distance between shoals affects the flow of genetics, potentially. I want to know if fewer shoals cause separate populations because some fish can’t travel as well,” explained Hanns. 

Outside of academia 

Outside of school and research, Hanns is a runner and hiker. She also creates black-and-white animal portraits in her spare time—which, as a graduate student, there isn’t much of.

When she finishes school, she’ll seek some kind of applied research position. She loves The Nature Conservancy, but would be amenable to a range of roles. 

“I’m open to any NGO or government positions where you’re using science-backed management strategies and developing conservation strategies,” she said. “I like to be in that type of role: project management of a conservation plan. That’s kind of like my dream role.” 

She’s especially passionate about freshwater in part because she wants to ensure equity for women like her. 

“Being a woman of color, we’re disproportionately affected by water management not being done well,” she explained. 

And she’d love to fold science communication into her work somehow. 

A woman in a coat, hat and boots stands outside in a snow-covered field, mountains, trees and sky visible behind her.
Conservation Easement monitoring in Boulder County, Colorado. (TNC)

“Communication is important in all science, but especially in conservation and sustainability, because those have direct impacts on people,” she explained.  

To Hanns, it’s not just about doing right by communities—it’s also about effective conservation. 

“We say in conservation that we want people to do their part,” she said. “But it’s hard for people to understand the effects of their actions if they really don’t understand the deep connections that they have with nature.”

And as Hanns points out, advancing public education and input doesn’t have to be hard. 

“Sometimes it’s just a simple conversation or a communication pamphlet. We have to meet people where they’re at.”

Researchers reveal need to examine link between two major environmental threats

A recently published study may guide the future of invasive species and hypoxia research

There is a critical need to explore two of the biggest environmental threats—invasive species and hypoxia, or low levels of oxygen dissolved in a body of water—side-by-side, according to a new literature review conducted by a team of Odum School of Ecology researchers.

The study, published in Biological Reviews, underscores gaps in aquatic ecology research and offers scientists a clear next line of study on two of the largest global environmental stressors.

“These two issues separately had been seen as really big problems—exotic species introductions and hypoxia. You see a lot of literature on both,” said Jeb Byers, who helmed the project. “We were just putting two-and-two together, and thinking there could be this possibility for synergism between those, particularly with aquatic invaders.”

Byers, professor and associate dean at the Odum School of Ecology, served as lead author on the project, which examined 100 studies on hypoxia and non-indigenous, or invasive, species. Over the course of a year, the team tackled four or five papers at a time, extracting the relevant information and creating a large database.

Sixty-two percent of the studies found that invasive species do better than native species in little-to-no oxygen environments. But most studies only looked at the impact of low oxygen and invaders on one species, limiting their scope. Exploring the interaction between invasive species and low oxygen at the larger level of communities and ecosystems is critical, according to the researchers.

Dr. Jeb Byers, Associate Dean for Research and Operations and Professor of Ecology, poses for a portrait in a lab in the Ecology Building.
Jeb Byers, associate dean for research and operations and professor of ecology, poses for a portrait in a lab in the Ecology Building. 

“Understanding how these things play out at a larger level is one of the things we found is missing,” said Byers. “It’s really needed for management.”

If invasive species actually create low oxygen in a body of water—a question only one-quarter of studies explored—managers may only need to tackle one issue. Identifying and eradicating a hypoxia-creating invader would kill two birds with one stone, alleviating both problems at once.

A figure shows the number of studies that looked at hypoxia tolerance and the number of studies that looked at hypoxia creation.
For hypoxia-tolerance studies, the group assessed the question: Did the non indigenous species tolerate low oxygen relative to normal oxygen? For hypoxia-creation studies, the researchers assessed the question: Did the NIS create hypoxia? Two studies that were categorized as ‘No’ for hypoxia creation reported hypoxia alleviation.

Certainly, the problems of exotic species and depleted oxygen are ours to fix. They’re exacerbated and created by human activity, Byers explained. 

Invasive species are transported through human movement. Millions of metric tons of ballast water, held in ships for stability during transit, are dumped in U.S. ports each year. Each ton contains anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 zooplankton organisms.

“It’s a compelling topic…these anthropogenic changes that we’re imposing on systems are not acting in isolation. They tend to compound one another,” he said. “Often, you have climate change, interacting with invasive species, interacting with pollution.” 

It’s a chain reaction. Human-driven climate change leads to warmer water. Since warmer water holds lower levels of dissolved oxygen, it in turn creates hypoxia.

“I think the biggest contribution of this paper is just bringing this issue to people’s consciousness,” said Byers. 

Co-authors on the study included Odum Ph.D. student Julie Blaze, undergraduate students Alannah Dodd and Hannah Hall and Paul E. Gribben, professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Van Rees takes multidisciplinary approach to research, conservation outreach

Charles van Rees has always been into nature.

Growing up in Needham, Massachusetts, he prided himself on being the “weird kid who knew what bug that was.” But during his teen years, environmental science classes revealed that many of the plants and animals he enjoyed were in peril. He’d also spent a few years immersing himself in East Asian martial arts and their underlying philosophies, which included strong components of morality and personal responsibility.

“As a 15-year-old boy, that affected me a lot,” he said. “I thought, ‘You’ve got to do something about it.’”

He studied conservation science at Connecticut College and then earned a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution and behavior at Tufts University, where he also pursued interdisciplinary studies in water resources management. Now an assistant research scientist at the Odum School of Ecology, and an affiliate at the River Basin Center and Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS), van Rees describes himself as a conservation scientist and naturalist.

“I’m not just interested in doing science,” he said. “I want to specifically apply scientific research to promote conservation action and impact.”

Intersections and infrastructure

Freshwater is a major intersection between protecting wildlife and building a better future—a big nexus of societal and ecological dynamics that goes both ways, according to van Rees.

“When you look at a complex system, if you want to be efficient about impact, you look for that one central piece that you can influence and that will cause everything else to change,” he said. “A lot of times freshwater is a good leverage point, because so much other stuff revolves around water: human and non-human life—because we have to drink water—agricultural food production, climate, disaster, international politics, species distributions.”

Van Rees arrived at UGA in 2021 as a postdoctoral research associate at the River Basin Center, hired to work with the Network for Engineering With Nature. IRIS founded N-EWN in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering With Nature initiative to build a network of partners devoted to accelerating the field of natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions.

“Charles is an extraordinary naturalist with very broad training,” said Seth Wenger, director of the River Basin Center. “His skills, combined with his productivity, positivity and enthusiasm, will make him an asset in this new role.”

With N-EWN, van Rees helps coordinate the biodiversity arm, centered around integrating biodiversity conservation and sustainable infrastructure development.

“The paradigm that we’re striving for now is, can we do more than just mitigate for the damage we cause whenever we build infrastructure?” he said. “Instead, we’re trying to illustrate that you can do restorative infrastructure, you can do net-positive stuff for wildlife, you can find these win-win situations for people and the environment.”

In this role, van Rees collaborates closely with professionals from diverse disciplines—landscape architects, environmental policy and economics experts, engineers and hydrologists, for example.

“We sit there and try to communicate across huge differences in expertise, professional culture and vocabulary, and then we write cool interdisciplinary papers that bring all these knowledges together in new and powerful ways,” he said. “It has been really thrilling to get to do that every day for a job.”

Van Rees presents at the Network for Engineering With Nature’s biodiversity retreat last year. He helps coordinate N-EWN’s biodiversity arm, centered around integrating biodiversity conservation and sustainable infrastructure development. Photo by Sarah Buckleitner

In August, van Rees and a team from N-EWN published a study that addresses the critical need for effective monitoring—and timely reassessment—of nature-based solutions projects. With passage of the trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill, and an increase in climate risks to mitigate through infrastructure, the stakes are high.

“We know that billions of dollars are about to come funneling into national infrastructure for the next however many years,” van Rees said. “How do we do this in a way that is strategic, deliberate and logical? We know we’re going to make some mistakes. How do we document those mistakes and do better going forward? How do we make nature-based solutions maximally effective?”

Biologist ruins everything

This spring, around the same time he gave a TEDx talk on nature’s role in inspiring creativity and innovation, van Rees launched the Gulo in Nature blog. It grew out of a question he asked himself after observing the gap between academic researchers and people he met on the street: Why isn’t conservation reaching the majority of people?

“If no one has any idea what any plant or animal species is, how the heck is anyone going to care?” he said. “If we can get people the slightest bit interested in nature and biology and evolution, they may learn something and might have more to say when those issues come up in our society.”

Gulo, a Latin word meaning “glutton,” is the scientific name of the wolverine, an animal with a huge appetite that wanders over large expanses of wilderness—not unlike van Rees’ approach to learning about all aspects of the natural world. But the blog isn’t for nature nerds like him. It’s an entry point for people who don’t spend time outside, a catalyst for welcoming outsiders to science and natural history.

A 2021 selfie in Rocky Mountain National Park, taken while van Rees was moving to Georgia from his last position in Montana.

Accordingly, the blog takes inspiration from pop culture. Posts in the “Biologist Ruins Everything” category include van Rees explaining the science behind popular curiosities like the squirrel superhero meme (spoiler alert: they’re just scratching) and where turkeys sleep at night, after an episode of the sci-fi series “Rick and Morty” raised the question but neglected to answer it. In other categories, like “Naturalist Answers” and “The Deep Stuff,” he explores questions like why do people find birdsong relaxing and what is biodiversity?

Van Rees contributes to multiple podcasts, serving as the resident bird nerd and “science guy” for the outdoor podcast Nature Guys (look for the Thanksgiving episode on cranberry bogs) and as conservation correspondent for K9 Conservationists, dedicated to the use of trained dogs for wildlife conservation research.

Before launching Gulo in Nature, van Rees spent more than a year planning, designing and researching search engine optimization to make sure it would be found by his target audience.

“There’s certainly the compulsive need for me to blab endlessly about nature and some desire for a place to channel that, because otherwise I’ll just never shut up,” he said. “From an applied perspective, though, it’s still a conservation thing for me. It’s about reaching audiences that my published papers never will.”

Wax on, wax off

Recently, van Rees spent some time camping in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona, where he was excited to see his first Painted Redstart and find a large group of riffle bugs in a spring tucked deep in a canyon. When he’s not outside enjoying nature—or writing and talking about it—he’s often engaged in some form of martial arts, which he’s been practicing for about 20 years.

In Athens he’s studying Brazilian jiu-jitsu, MMA (mixed martial arts), and traditional Shorinji-ryu Karate, as well as teaching self-defense. He enjoys the interdisciplinary, mixed-styles nature of MMA—perhaps not surprising given that he combines different branches of science in his academic work.

In his new role as assistant research scientist, van Rees will continue his work with N-EWN but expand his service at Odum to include mentoring graduate students, serving on committees and co-advising students as part of the graduate faculty.

“One of the things I’m most excited about is actually getting to participate and be a part of this community more directly,” he said, “because it’s such a kind and talented group of people.”

Laura Kojima holding an alligator

Grad student assesses alligators’ exposure to contaminants

By Allyson Mann.

Laura Kojima holding an alligator.
Laura Kojima, an Odum School of Ecology master’s student who conducts research at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, has a passion for reptiles—especially the kind that can grow up to 14 feet long with lots of sharp teeth. “Don’t feed alligators,” she cites as one of many safety precautions. “That creates a very bad situation. That’s how you get bit.” (Photo courtesy of Laura Kojima)

Laura Kojima was 15 years old the first time she held an alligator. The California native and Mexican American had decided to visit New Orleans in lieu of having a quinceañera.

“I don’t want to have a party,” she told her mom. “I just want to go to a swamp.”

In Louisiana, she discovered that she loved the culture, the ambiance and the humidity too. And it was during a bayou swamp tour that she met the alligator—a juvenile not more than 2 feet long—not knowing it would be the first of many.

“It was amazing,” she said.

A decade later, Kojima’s alligator encounters are decidedly more circumspect. Now a UGA graduate student at the Savannah River Ecology Lab and the Odum School of Ecology, she is examining the levels of mercury found in alligator tail muscle. She’s also assessing the concerns for contaminant exposure associated with the hunting and consumption of alligators that travel between different areas.

To conduct her research, Kojima captures alligators that are much bigger than the one she met in the bayou. Adult alligators measure up to 14 feet and weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

“I am very cautious in my fieldwork, and I am 100% aware of how incredibly strong they are,” she said. “I choose my team very selectively. We always have our guard up.”

Using wooden bait traps, Kojima and her team bring an alligator on land, secure it and gather measurements and samples before releasing it. They also attach a GPS transmitter that sends location information in real time, allowing her to monitor the alligator’s movements.

Location information is essential for the first question she’s asking for her master’s thesis project, which is supported by a 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship: What is the risk of hunting alligators that originate from the Savannah River Site and move up or down the Savannah River?

A former nuclear facility managed by the Department of Energy, SRS is not accessible to the public, but wildlife can move off the site and onto public hunting grounds. With alligator hunting on the rise for sport and for sustenance, monitoring their mercury levels provides information that can guide hunting advisories.

Kojima earned her undergraduate degree at University of California, Davis, where she managed a turtle project as an intern in UGA alumnus Brian Todd’s research lab. After earning her degree, she worked a six-month position with the U.S. Geological Survey on a garter snake project in California before coming to UGA for graduate school.
Kojima earned her undergraduate degree at University of California, Davis, where she managed a turtle project as an intern in UGA alumnus Brian Todd’s research lab. After earning her degree, she worked a six-month position with the U.S. Geological Survey on a garter snake project in California before coming to UGA for graduate school. (Photo by Andrew Lazenby)

Kojima’s second research question involves evaluating mercury levels and movement behaviors to see if there’s a relationship between the two. At SRS the alligators occupy two manmade lakes, previously used as coolant ponds, that contain differing levels of contaminants. “Do we see alligators in one lake, where mercury is notably higher, having more random or unexpected behavior? That’s the next part of my project that I’m diving into.”

Alligators are a good bioindicator species for monitoring environmental health because, as apex predators, they’re eating fish and other animals that accumulate contaminants. “Through these animals, we’re able to see how certain levels change over time and how they compare within different locations,” she said.

Although she loves working with alligators, Kojima doesn’t want to limit her options. For her master’s project, she’s working as an alligator ecotoxicologist, but she really considers herself to be a herpetologist, a biologist that works with all reptiles.

“I really love working with crocodilians, but it’s a narrow field to be in,” said Kojima, who plans to graduate in May 2023 and hopes to work for a state agency like California’s Natural Resources Agency or Department of Fish and Wildlife. “I feel like there’s more that I can do outside of the crocodilian world. I like the idea of a broader conservation herpetological job.”

Ideally that work would contain an educational component, something she’s passionate about. Kojima is active on Twitter (@LauraKojima) and with Skype a Scientist, a nonprofit that connects scientists with elementary school classes. Last year, UGA’s Marine Institute invited her to talk virtually with K-12 kids about her work with alligators, and this year she spoke to college classes at two different universities about careers in wildlife and herpetology.

Kojima appreciates having opportunities to engage with younger people in the field—and those young enough that they haven’t chosen a path.

“As a woman of color navigating STEM, it’s important for me to show a little bit of representation,” she said. “Because I know there are, especially on the Georgia coast, Hispanic communities. We’re still probably one of the smallest minorities in the field of ecology. I think it’s only like 3% or something.”

Assuming that type of public role isn’t always comfortable, she said, but it’s important.

“When I saw how many people saw the BBC video, it made me a little uneasy, you know?” Kojima said. “But it’s what you have to do to reach the one or two people who are going to be like, ‘Oh, she’s doing that, and she looks like me and comes from a similar background as me. Maybe I’ll be able to do it too.’ Because I would’ve loved to see that growing up, and I never did.”

Kojima enjoys the solitude of her field work.

“It’s just me and my crew, and we’re out on a lake by ourselves, and that’s just unbelievable. I’m so grateful for that,” she said. “It’s just nice being able to be on a boat on a private lake and catch alligators. That’s what I enjoy doing with my time. It’s a lot of fun.”

Burning questions: The mysteries of pyrogenic carbon and the effects of prescribed fire on soil

When you think of a forest on fire, you aren’t usually thinking about what’s happening in the soil- but graduate student Ali Moss is. The Spencer Research Grant winner and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources student’s research investigates the relationship between prescribed fire and carbon cycling, specifically studying an organic material known as pyrogenic carbon. This form of organic carbon appears when soil interacts with fire, and Moss intends to learn its secrets.

Soils are beautiful! Moss examines soils collected immediately after the prescribed burn in April 2021. In the background, pyrogenic carbon from burned grasses and litter blankets the soil surface.

“One of the big areas of mystery is that pyrogenic carbon is present in rivers, and is travelling from rivers to the ocean,” Moss said, “but we don’t really understand the details of how it moves from soil to waterways, and we don’t really understand how it becomes dissolved.” Pyrogenic carbon tends to persist in soil longer than unburned organic matter. Researchers originally thought that this was because microbes couldn’t break down pyrogenic carbon, but this since been disputed.

“We know that pyrogenic carbon is harder for microorganisms to decompose than regular organic matter,” Moss explained. “But it’s always a mistake to underestimate microorganisms, because they can do, like, anything.” Moving forward, Moss hopes to characterize dissolved pyrogenic carbon in South Georgia forests managed with prescribed fire, and figure out how it makes its way into water.

There are several moving parts to this research: Moss and their team pull soil cores to get a profile of organic matter at different soil depths. Then, to investigate the connections between carbon in the soil and in the water, they pull water samples directly from the soil using lysimeters. They also do extractions of soil in water in order to test and compare two different methods for studying dissolved pyrogenic carbon in soil.

A field of lysimeters installed in the burned stand of forest immediately after the prescribed fire, April 2021. A lysimeter is a device used to measure evapotranspiration by recording the amount of water percolating through soil.

Another major question is simply how long pyrogenic carbon can last in the soil after a burn. “Because pyrogenic carbon hangs out in the soil longer, it might be an important carbon sink,” Moss said, explaining how carbon, pulled from the atmosphere by plants, may remain sequestered in the soil longer after it has been exposed to fire. “Some pyrogenic carbon does hang out in the soils for millennia, but most of it is probably cycling out within decades or centuries. So what are the controls on this? How can we get a better idea of what kind of sink pyrogenic carbon is and how would we quantify that?”

The experiment is currently underway near Tifton, Georgia and compares two stands of longleaf pine trees, one of which is not managed with fire, and one where Moss and their team performed a prescribed fire back in April of 2021. Prescribed fire is a forestry management technique that involves strategic burning. The practice brings a lot of known environmental benefits that are still being explored—and Moss is a big fan. “I think prescribed fire is awesome.” Moss said. “Getting to participate in prescribed fire I felt was really cool…It’s a really powerful tool.”

The prescribed fire in April 2021, shortly after ignition: a backing fire crawls through the understory with low intensity.

Part of her interest in the project stems from this enthusiasm for prescribed fire. “Despite its importance as a land management tool,” Moss said in their Spencer Research Grant proposal, “prescribed fire science remains underfunded compared to wildfire science, resulting in many knowledge gaps.”

Moss hopes her research may one day help inform forest managers how to regulate carbon through fire. “I love to talk to people about prescribed fires and spread the word about how awesome prescribed fire is.”

Ali Moss in March 2021, assessing fuel composition before the prescribed fire.

Moss’s research is funded by the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources as well as a 2022 Spencer Research Grant. The grant is an annual award given to graduate students studying freshwater resource management and conservation. It is named for the late John Kyle Spencer, an Odum graduate student who was passionate about freshwater research. Moss’s project reflects a love for ecological science and conservation-focused management techniques.

Photos provided by Ali Moss. Story by Olivia Allen.

Laura Naslund, sitting in a canoe on a pond, smiles while taking emissions data.

A Day in the Life of a Pond: Measuring Small-Reservoir Emissions to Inform Infrastructure Decisions

By 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, June 21, Laura Naslund had already spent over an hour in a canoe on a little pond on the east side of Athens, Georgia. Naslund, a graduate student in the Odum School of Ecology and a 2022 Spencer Grant recipient, was finishing up the first field sampling event of her new research project. She’d started work early on Monday morning, and was still paddling a canoe out to measure gas emissions all over the pond 24 hours later.

“The idea is to understand the times, places and pathways that are most important for emissions,” Naslund said over a quick breakfast, “and then apply that information to a later study at more sites which examines the drivers of the differences in emissions between sites.” 

There are 364 reservoirs in Athens-Clarke County, but only 23 of them are listed in the National Inventory of Dams, leaving hundreds of smaller reservoirs that receive far less attention from freshwater research and management alike.

Laura Naslund and volunteer assistant Ally Whiteis paddle a canoe across a small pond for field sampling.
Laura Naslund and volunteer assistant Ally Whiteis paddle a canoe across a small pond for sampling, around the 2-hour mark of the 24-hour field sampling.

Naslund believes these small reservoirs may have a much larger impact on inland water systems than we currently recognize. She hopes to expand our understanding of freshwater reservoir emissions by focusing research attention on the small ponds of Athens. The end goal of Naslund’s research is to help inform infrastructure decisions regarding which of these dams have the greatest environmental impact and which may be highest priority for removal.

“Particularly as we are about to have the largest infrastructure investment probably in my lifetime, I think now’s a good time to start thinking about how we can use ecological knowledge to inform where and what kind of infrastructure we have,” she explained. “And this project, I think, is a little bit unique among that body of work in that it’s focused on the end of an infrastructure life cycle.”

Naslund is particularly dedicated to accurate field testing: data collection for this research will involve sampling all over each test reservoir for over 24 hours at each event. These methods were designed to get the most accurate possible understanding of where, when and how gases are emitted throughout a day.

Laura Naslund paddles a canoe across a wollfia-covered pond.
Laura Naslund paddles a canoe across a wollfia-covered pond, around the 6-hour mark of her 24-hour field sampling.

“I think researchers have thought about spatial variation a lot, we’ve thought about seasonal variation a lot, but we’ve though less about the variation in emissions that happens over the course of a single day,” Naslund explained. By focusing on variation at a daily scale, Naslund hopes to collect emissions data that more accurately represents the natural history and spatial heterogeneity of a system.

It’s strenuous work to sample for 30 hours at a time, but Naslund doesn’t mind camping out. “The places that I’m working in are beautiful. So that always helps!”

She also acknowledged that she could not do this research alone. Her team of volunteer assistants included professors, undergraduates, and fellow graduate students, who came in shifts throughout the 30-hour sampling. “It’s been really great to collaborate with people, to show them new techniques, and to learn from them,” Naslund said.

Ally Whiteis, Odum undergraduate, paddles a canoe on a wolffia-covered pond.
Ally Whiteis, Odum undergraduate, paddling a field canoe.
Olivia Allen, Odum undergraduate, sitting behind Laura Naslund in a field canoe and recording data.
Olivia Allen, Odum undergraduate, recording data.

Naslund’s research is funded by the Network for Engineering With Nature, a collaboration between UGA and the US Army Corps of Engineers, along with a grant from the Odum School of Ecology and a 2022 Spencer Grant from the River Basin Center. The Spencer Grants are annual awards given to graduate students studying freshwater management and conservation. The grant is named for the late John Kyle Spencer, an Odum graduate student who was passionate about freshwater research. Research like Naslund’s is a reflection of this passion for freshwater science and cooperation among environmental researchers.

Photos and story by Olivia Allen