Graduate Research at UNC-Chapel
Species Redistribution Due to
It’s hard to see the environmental impact of
our activities from the ground. Only from a satellite
image can we really see human civilization, appearing
as a bad case of smallpox across the verdant skin of
the earth. As global warming proceeds and precipitation
patterns change, plants and animals will have to move
to more hospitable areas. However, human alterations
to the landscape such as homes, buildings, and open
fields will make dispersal more difficult in some places
I’ve been interested in studying this upheaval
of species distribution due to climate change. To do
this, I wanted to use existing landscape and species
distribution data to try to forecast areas where species
might migrate most easily, taking into account their
means of dispersal. Those areas could then be targeted
for future protection.
I wanted to get started performing GIS queries and
developing models as soon as I started in the fall of
2005. However, there was a lot of coursework to be done
before I had the opportunity to do any GIS or model
development for coursework. So I began to teach myself,
doing a lot more reading than I've already done.
Viscosity of Progress
It turned out to be harder than I thought to do the
research I wanted to do. Before I started my graduate
program, I thought I could study changes in future vegetation
distribution due to climate change with my advisor.
However, going into it, it became apparent that it would
be more difficult getting him to sign on to the idea.
I ended up participating in our lab's NASA research
project for a while, determining what environmental
factors might influence plant species richness across
a three-state area. There, I was able to work with satellite
imagery and population data in a GIS environment, and
do some modeling in R. However, eventually my advisor
agreed to support my research idea, and I began working
to complete my thesis.
Done At Last
My thesis is entitled "Arctic Plant Migration
by 2100: Comparing Predictions with Observations,"
and is available both from the Ecology
program's website as well as from my
own website. It took all of four years to complete.
I faced the prospect of being there for another three
(or who knows, more?) years, vs. getting out into the
field and making an impact in environmental science
or management with a degree I could get more immediately.
Though I was accepted into a Ph.D program, I decided
to leave with a master's degree instead because of this.
Someday I may return to get my Ph.D, but it may entail
doing it at a different school. I know NC State has
a GIS program, though I would have a long commute there
each day I had to come in, and right now I need a job
moreso than anything else. A Ph.D would qualify me to
teach at a university, but such jobs are even scarcer.