2010-2011 Science & Society Fellows
What can explain all the fascinating patterns we see in nature? Benjamin Blonder wants
to discover biological laws that can be understood and appreciated by everyone. He is currently a PhD student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, exploring how leaf vein networks control plant carbon and water usage. He is excited to be able to share his passion for biology and excitement about patterns in leaves with visitors to Biosphere 2. In past lives Ben has been a physicist, Idaho public-school teacher, and salamander-catcher!
Erin Jordan entered into Miami University as an undergrad and thought she wanted to be a botanist because she loved and wanted to study plants. But then television entered her life and she enjoyed the fast paced world of broadcast news. Erin double majored in botany and mass communications and after college took a job at a television station in Greenville, North Carolina. It was in Greenville that she went through back-to-back hurricanes Dennis and Floyd. Watching the meteorologists give out life saving information made her realize that she wanted to be one, so she took a promotion and moved to Tampa, FL where she continued her work as a video editor and enrolled in Mississippi State University's online Broadcast Meteorology program. Erin acquired a third undergrad degree in Geosciences and moved to Minnesota, West Virginia, and finally Arizona to work as a Broadcast Meteorologist. After arriving in Arizona, she applied to the Arid Lands Resource Sciences PhD Program where she could apply her interest in flood risk and vulnerability, which was sparked by her time in North Carolina and the desert Southwest. Now she is looking at how various cities convey flood vulnerability and how this information gets to the public and their perception of flood risk. She is also interested in the literature and research of science communication, specifically how it relates to climate change.
Kit O’Connor’s roots in the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest are partly to blame for his long term fascination with forest ecology and conservation. Another part comes from his family lineage of avid outdoor enthusiasts, and another from his schooling in forest entomology at Penn State University and later masters work in sustainable forestry and biodiversity at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Outreach and teaching have also been major drivers of Kit’s passion for research and he is very happy to have an opportunity to share that passion as a Biosphere 2 Science and Society Fellow.
Kit’s doctoral work at the University of Arizona focuses on changes in forest demography, spatial structure, and fire history in high elevation conifer forests of the Pinaleño Mountains of southwest Arizona. The Pinaleños include scrub oak, ponderosa pine, mixed conifer, and spruce-fir forest ecotones along an elevational gradient typical of the sky island ranges of Arizona and Mexico. These high elevation forest systems at the edge of their natural distribution function as a sort of “canary in the coal mine” for the effects of changing climate on the continuous conifer forests of northern latitudes. Milder winters, longer fire-weather periods, and changing drought conditions are influencing fire, insect outbreaks, and forest pathogens and disease. The interactions between these factors are changing the forests of the Pinaleño Mountains. This study will reconstruct histories of fire, species composition, tree recruitment and mortality, and insect and human disturbances across the landscape to provide insight into past, current, and future disturbance regimes in this system and in western forest dynamics as a whole.
Pacifica Sommers will be starting her second year at the University of Arizona in August, where she is pursuing a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is interested in the maintenance of biodiversity and how species interactions will affect that as a changing climate and exotic introductions shift species’ potential ranges. To that end, she will be experimenting with the local coexistence of water striders, backswimmers, giant water bugs, and other aquatic insects from the streams in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. She enjoys being outdoors and writing, and hopes to share with others an appreciation for the importance of biodiversity.
Kristin D. Wisneski
Kristin Wisneski is a Master’s student in Rangeland Ecology and Management in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona. Ms. Wisneski’s research focuses on children and their potential for citizen science. At the Office of Arid Lands Studies she works for Geospatial Extension with her advisor Dr. Barron Orr. Both her interests in geospatial technologies and human wellness are captured in a project called Stealth Health that aims to find innovative ways using cell phones to encourage children to be more physically active. Youth mapping projects in and around Tucson also include goals such as positive youth development, civic engagement, and a greater awareness of the natural environment.