Conservation where people live.
I am a conservation scientist with almost 20 years of experience of work in Central America. My main research interests have involve the role of matrix habitats (i.e., the usually degraded or human-managed lands beyond protected areas) in wildlife conservation in the Neotropics. I have served as the Director of Conservation Science for Paso Pacífico, a non-profit dedicated to biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods in southwestern Nicaragua. Currently, I continue working on a couple of projects with Paso Pacífico; I am also an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan, where I focus on engaging with students interested in sustainable agriculture as I transition from inside scientist to farmer. Along with my partner, in late 2017 I started my own farm where we are establishing climate-resilient, tree-based agriculture. In my work I draw from diverse disciplines, from ecology to anthropology to agricultural sciences.
My philosophical approach to conservation science is grounded in my belief that humans are key members of the ecosystems we seek to protect, and that long-term success in our field is contingent upon ongoing, iterative processes of education and engagement of the people directly affected by conservation interventions. Approaches centered on excluding people from all protected areas will ultimately fail for social, political, and economic reasons; conservation that focuses exclusively on unmanaged, "pristine" habitat will fail for ecological reasons. Thus, the success of conservation is dependent upon building reliable, meaningful partnerships with local stakeholders.
The kind of engagement necessary to effect biodiversity conservation requires a long-term commitment to build relationships, understand social and ecological histories, and establish trust. This goes beyond a landscape approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of multiple conservation challenges, to a place-based approach that integrates multi-dimensional ecological, social, and cultural knowledge. As a result I have previously dedicated much of my career to working in Nicaragua, with a particular focus on the tropical dry forest ecosystems of Nicaragua's Pacific slope.
Through my work in Nicaragua, I became fascinated by how small farmers were using resources and how agricultural practices could be highly productive and also improve the provision of ecosystem services. As I've come to accept the different pace of life I need due to a chronic illness, I have transitioned from scientist to farmer. We own a 40 acre farm in Wayne County, MI, where my partner and I are working to establish a profitable, sustainable perennial farm. What better way to engage?
I received my Ph.D. in 2003 from New York University. For my dissertation, I studied the ecology of mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) living in a shade coffee plantation in Mombacho Volcano, Nicaragua. This research demonstrated that shade coffee plantations can serve as core habitat for forest-adapted mammals. From June 2003 to July 2004, I was a worked for the Saint Louis Zoo, based in Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua. I collaborated with indigenous Miskito and Mayangna residents in Bosawás to study the population status and subsistence hunting of large mammals and birds.
In 2006, I began working with Dr. Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan on questions of biodiversity and its ecological function in agricultural systems in Central America. For my postdoctoral research, we collaborated on an investigation of bats in shade coffee plantations of Chiapas, Mexico. My research considered both the relationship between management intensity and bat assemblage structure and the effects of bat predation on arthropod populations and levels of herbivory in agroecosystems. I continue to collaborate with Dr. Perfecto's working group, although I now focus on collaborating with groups of master's students from SNRE to study the multi-faceted relationships between biodiversity and management of agricultural systems in southwestern Nicaragua.
Although most of my research has focused on mammals, particularly bats and primates, the taxa I study include insects, frogs, sea turtles, parrots, and terrestrial mammals.