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.”

Cydney Seigerman wears black glasses and smiles above a background of hills, buildings and shoreline.

What it means to be a researcher: Water science and community connections in rural Brazil

Plenty of scientists leave their comfort zone for research, but few relocate to another continent— anthropology graduate student Cydney Seigerman has done it twice. In 2014, they worked as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Madrid, Spain. Today, they live in the small city of Quixeramobim in Ceará, Brazil, and have been working there since August 2021. Seigerman is a PhD candidate in the ICON program whose research focuses on the sociopolitical and ecological aspects of water security.

Two people with helmets sitting on a white motorcycle on the porch of a house.
Seigerman accompanies Kim do Sindicato, the former director and current president of the Rural Workers’ Union of Quixeramobim, on a day of community visits. Through collaboration with him and others at the Union, Seigerman was able to get in contact with many of the communities that are participating in their survey work. [February 2022, Cachoerinha, Quixeramobim, Ceará. Photo Credit: Rubinha Bento]

For one facet of their research, Seigerman (in collaboration with the State Water Resources Company, Cogerh) carries out evaporation rate studies in two important reservoirs for local water supply. They are also conducting an in-depth household survey: Seigerman and their team of local undergraduate students and researchers from the State Meteorological and Water Resources Institute, Funceme, interview community members in Ceará about how water is used, how scarcity is dealt with, and how the politics of water impact their livelihoods. This survey contributes to the Household Water Insecurity Experience Research Coordination Network (HWISE-RCN).

Respect is a fundamental value of Seigerman’s work. In each of the 52 communities where the survey is being conducted, Seigerman reached out to a community leader or health agent to explain the project and schedule a visit. The families with whom the team collaborate are overwhelmingly welcoming and generous with their time and knowledge, but are at times hesitant, initially doubting that they will be able to answer the survey.

Seigerman emphasizes that those living in rural communities know more about their water use than anyone else. “People are experts in their own lives,” they said, “and you have to respect that people know their own lives better than anyone else.”

Two people standing together in the blue water of a reservoir, with the water reaching mid-thigh. To the left are four white frames (two with an aluminum foil tray and two with a clear plastic tray) tied together to make a square and secured to a ruler used to measure the water level of the reservoir. On top of the ruler is a white weather station.
Evandro, a technician at the State Water Resources Management Company, Cogerh, and Seigerman carry out preliminary evaporation studies in the Reservoir “Açude Novo” in Maraqueta, a federal settlement in Quixeramobim, Ceará. With the help of Cogerh, Seigerman is currently carrying out evaporation studies in two reservoirs key for supplying water to rural communities and cities throughout the region. [December 2021, Maraquetá, Quixeramobim, Ceará. Photo credit: Ivo Medeiros]

The traditional research process is somewhat removed from the real world. A project like this could easily be done quickly and impersonally, the data examined back in the United States- but Seigerman’s goal for their research is deeper than that.

“The objective of research in itself isn’t just to have, you know, a nice graph that quantifies what water security is,” Seigerman explained— although they acknowledge that this type of communication is also vital. “But a fundamental aspect of my research is to really make connections with all the local families and individuals with whom I’m working.”

Seigerman has seemingly become quite at home in Quixeramobim. They visited Ceará for the first time for preliminary research back in 2018 on another Spencer Grant. “That year, I spoke five words of Portuguese when I arrived,” Seigerman laughed. They have now been living abroad continuously for over a year and are comfortable in both the language and the municipality. “I have three households in three different communities where I’m now considered part of the family, and that is irreplaceable in terms of experiences.”

A woman in a pink skirt and gray top secures a pink cloth over a 20L water bottle, as a man in a purple polo shirt and camouflage pants pours water from a black bucket into the bottle. They are in front of a round, white cistern with an angled top, which has a rectangular hole from which water is retrieved from the cistern. The ground is brown dirt with some small patches of grass.
In Mearim, Quixeramobim, a couple works together to filter rainwater stored in a cistern through a cloth (the process of “coando a água”), as a treatment method before using this water for drinking and cooking. In their first round of survey collection, Seigerman found that the majority of families use this method to remove particulates from rainwater before consumption. [October 2022, Mearim, Quixeramobim, Ceará]

Seigerman has also explored a thread of political ecology through this research, discussing the ethics of “what it means to be a researcher and what it means to be a foreigner.” They described the political relationships that underly water resources, especially in rural areas, and how their research relates. Most of the families in Quixeramobim live at or below the poverty line, where the main source of income is a government program providing households with 600 reais per month (about $120 USD).

Seigerman has found firsthand the importance of “understanding that no research is neutral, and that everything is about political relationships, regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish.” They are using their time not just to work in the community, but to embrace it: “My overall goal is to value each relationship that I have and make here during my research.”

Three rows of people look at the camera, the majority holding up a blue certificate from the cistern informational course. The front row has six people: four people kneeling on the ground, with one person on each side standing up. The second row has six people standing up. The back row has seven people, who are slightly hidden by the second row. In the background, there are two houses with white walls and ceramic tile roofs and one house with a yellow wall.
Seigerman, representatives from the Antônio Conselheiro Institute (IAC, a local NGO) members of Cachoerinha, a local community in Quixeramobim, commemorate the completion of the two-day course required to receive a drinking water cistern through a program organized by IAC with government funding. In addition to teaching families how to take care of their cistern, the course challenges participants to think critically about social issues, including the politicization of water resources, gender roles and food security. [April 2022, Cachoerinha, Quixeramobimm, Ceará. Photo Credit: Rubinha Bento]

Seigerman’s research is funded by Funceme, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and the UGA Graduate School, as well as a 2022 Spencer Grant. The Spencer Grant is an annual award given to graduate students studying freshwater research management and conservation. It is named for the late John Kyle Spencer, an Odum graduate student who was passionate about freshwater research. Seigerman’s research shows not just an interest in freshwater management, but also how this management is applied to real people, and the deep connections researchers have to their study sites.

Story by Olivia Allen. Photos and captions provided by Cydney Seigerman.

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.

Part 1: On the Road—and the River—with the Ecological Problem Solving Class

Across three state and three rivers: An experiential learning journey

Science doesn’t—and shouldn’t—happen in a vacuum. Amanda Rugenski, lecturer and undergraduate coordinator at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, gets that. 

“To be able to listen to people is really important, not just to the scientists, not just to the water managers, but also to the communities that are present in these areas,” she said.

She hopes the question of who needs to have a seat at the table is something students take away from the Maymester study away course she led (ECOL 3300, Field Program in Ecological Problem Solving), from May 21 to June 4, 2022, with the assistance of Odum graduate students Kristen Zemaitis and Jeffrey Beauvais. 

Rugenski’s class of 19 had ample opportunity to practice listening as they attended presentations and hands-on workshops throughout swaths of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, learning to view environmental issues through a social-ecological lens.

Ecological Problem Solving is an experiential learning course offered annually for Ecology A.B. students, and it’s an anchor course for the Sustainability Certificate. The class is meant to give students a whirlwind introduction to problem solving at the intersection of science, society, and policy. The course is built around one such issue—the tri-state “Water Wars”—and the efforts of a regional organization, the ACF Stakeholders, Inc., to provide solutions through consensus. 

For several decades, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have disputed water allocation in the ACF Basin. Georgia needs water to support both agriculture in the southern part of the state and the continued growth of Atlanta in the north. Alabama requires water for power, drinking supply, and fisheries, and Florida needs enough water to reach the coast to prevent saltwater intrusion and to sustain its seafood industry.

In response, the ACF Stakeholders—composed of a range of people including civic leaders, farmers, fishermen and researchers across sectors and state lines—aims to foster informed, cooperative and equitable water sharing. 

The group’s goals dovetail perfectly with those of the class. To Rugenski, the organization is illustrative of a critical point. 

“Sometimes when we think of problem solving, people don’t think of humans as being a part of the solution, and others may not think of the environment and ecosystem as being part of the solution. I want students to see how interconnected these all are, to solve these complex problems,” said Rugenski.

Out of the classroom and into the creek: Field experience at the Jones Center

The group experienced the ACF basin from its headwaters to the Gulf Coast, traveling a roughly 1,000-mile loop and visiting as many of the ACF stakeholders as possible along the way to learn first-hand about their perspectives and priorities. Their travels included stops to sample fish in the Chestatee River in North Georgia, a visit from an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, a tour of the AgLanta Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill, and a meeting with the West Atlanta Watershed Association.

The group swept through Florida, with highlights including a stop at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, a visit from Dr. Brooke, who presented on the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative and a tour of the bay by boat to learn about restoration projects along Highway 98.

By Memorial Day, the class had wound its way back to southern Georgia, to the Jones Center at Ichauway.

Aquatic biologist Steve Golladay welcomed them to the reserve, or what he calls “30,000 acres of green in a sea of agriculture,” and presented background about the research center and the scope of natural resource management in Georgia.

The center’s threefold focus is on water—the unique hydrology of the mostly free flowing Flint River and its tributary, Ichawaynochaway Creek; woods—preserving its longleaf pine ecosystem; and wildlife—protecting the roughly 1,200 species present on the reserve, partially supported by its isolated wetlands.

On paper, Georgia is a freshwater-rich area, Golladay shared, with an average of about 50 inches of rainwater a year. That’s well above the national average. And the Flint—15 miles of which wends through Ichauway—is partially fed by the rapidly recharging Floridan aquifer, not just runoff and seepage. That makes it an especially reliable source of freshwater.

The challenge is that no single year gets the average amount of rainfall. Some years see 70 inches and others see 30—sometimes several years in a row, leading to periods of stress on water systems and periods of abundance. Sensibly bridging the gap between the two is a major water management goal. 

The Jones Center supports some of the most robust research on longleaf pine management in the country. Of the 30,000 acres on the ecological reserve, longleaf pine forest makes up about 18,000.

A habitat type that once spanned between 60 to 90 million acres of land in the southeastern United States prior to European colonization, longleaf ecosystems are reduced to about four and a half million acres today.

Ichauway’s second-growth pine is now mature, at 80 to 100 years old. It’s the perfect tree cover for Georgia’s on-again, off-again water supply: longleaf pine stops pumping water in drought years. It offers the benefits of forestation without straining water systems in times of water scarcity.

A large part of the center’s mission is providing access to its findings and the physical space itself.

Students head toward the creek.

That’s why, when his presentation was over, Golladay took the students to Ichawaynochaway Creek to go “mussel hugging,” a term he uses to encompass both the process of finding and identifying mussels and the unbridled enthusiasm with which he feels that task should be undertaken.

Golladay lectures from Ichawaynochaway Creek, camera in-hand.

Graduate student Jamie Rogers and research associate Caitlin Sweeney, with the help of student volunteers, set up a kick net and searched for critters. The water was clouded, but the murky flow was actually the result of staining from swamps up river, Golladay explained. It’s normally quite clear, with visibility sometimes reaching 15 feet.

Jamie Rogers and Caitlin Sweeney demonstrate how to use a kick net to gather samples.

Though no mussels were found, students discovered minnows, small fish, insects and several crayfish. It’s the kind of field experience and tactile learning that Golladay says the center is all about.

“I think one of the things that we offer at Ichauway is a real field experience. We’re all field-oriented, and so it gives people a chance to come and stay here, to see what we do out in the world. Especially now, given that we’re coming out of two years of virtual learning, the role of places like Ichawauy has become extremely important,” Golladay said.

Tina Vu inspects a net for insects, her favorite critters.

And students were conscious of that. For class member Alanna Deveter, the interactive nature of the course wasn’t just a perk—it was integral to her learning experience.

“I definitely prefer this type of learning environment to just sitting in a classroom,” she shared. “I have a pretty busy brain. So hands-on works for me. It’s an actual experience where I get to have my own perspective.”

And with each stop, students’ perspectives became more and more informed.

This kind of experiential learning is available to all A.B Ecology majors and students pursuing the Sustainability Certificate. Current and prospective students can learn more here.

Check back soon to read about the students’ stop at the Albany State’s Water Policy Center, UGA’s Stripling Center and the Flint RiverQuarium!

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

Precision Conservation of Imperiled Species

A tiny, rainbow-finned fish lives in the swiftly flowing waters of Georgia’s Etowah River. Known as the Etowah darter (Etheostoma etowahae), it exists only in the Etowah River Basin, mainly inhabiting the mountain streams of North Georgia.

The Etowah darter is only one example of the diverse array of freshwater fish, amphibians, crawfish and mussels that live in Georgia, including many endemic, imperiled species. However, the state is also a bustling transportation hub, with 1,253 miles of interstate highway and the busiest airport in the world.

Many of these species are highly sensitive to the threats associated with development.

In a recent project that brought together the University of Georgia’s River Basin Center and Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems, the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, researchers pinpointed ways to facilitate important construction projects around the state while tailoring conservation practices to each imperiled species’ needs.

Read the full article here.

Climate and Water Research Slam

Save the date: Climate and Water Research SlamThursday, May 12 1:00-5:00

The River Basin Center, the Georgia Initiative for Climate and Society, and the Office of Sustainability have joined forces for a climate and water “research slam” — a series of five-minute lightning talks by faculty and students on climate OR water (or both) followed by a social.

We have an awesome lineup of 24 5-minute lightning talks from a diverse group of speakers from across the UGA campus. Join us to hear about the wide range of water and climate work at UGA, to network with colleagues, and to celebrate the end of the semester. After the talks we’ll have a social with beverages and heavy snacks. Please join us!

Location: Innovation Hub, 210 Spring Street 

Schedule of Events:

  1:00 – 2:40  Session 1

  3:00 – 4:20  Session 2

  4:20 – 5:00  Social with beverages and snacks

Registration is free! But to help us plan for enough food and beverages, we ask you to please fill out this registration form by Monday May 9.

To see the full lineup, check out the draft detailed schedule (subject to correction for the next couple of days).

Third Wednesday Game Night with Dr. Karen Bareford

Last week Dr. Karen Bareford, the National Sea Grant and Water Resources Lead, delivered a Third Wednesday talk on the water resource efforts of the Sea Grant Network and its key partners, as well as the publicly available National Water Model. Afterwards, she presented the new Watershed Game: Coast Model, an engagement tool allowing players to take on the roles of policy and decisionmakers and collaborate in the management of water resources. Thank you to Dr. Bareford for speaking and showing this community-engaging activity!

Susan Wilde Receives Newcomb Cleveland Prize

RBC Affiliate Susan Wilde, associate professor of aquatic science at the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and Timo Niedermeyer, professor of pharmacognosy at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany have received the Newcomb Cleveland Prize for their research on the emerging problems posed by toxic cyanobacteria in aquatic habitats and effects on bald eagles and other waterfowl. Read more at UGA Today here.