The Coastal Disturbance Ecology Lab researches how human alterations affect an ecosystem’s response to both natural and anthropogenic disturbances. The goal for much of our research is to track transitions in structure and function of ecosystems with disturbances such as storms, floods, and climate change. We research this on multiple spatial and temporal scales, using LiDAR, historical maps, and aerial imagery in GIS to track landscape changes over time. We also conduct field experiments and surveys to measure community-level responses. A major question driving our research is “how have humans altered the response and recovery of systems?”
Climate change affects coastal areas uniquely, with both rising temperatures and sea levels potentially driving slow ecosystem transitions and land loss, while increased storm intensity and unpredictability can produce sudden changes in an already stressed environment. We aim to broaden the knowledge of how multiple stressors, including landscape modifications, nutrient inputs, and climate change, interact with both natural and anthropogenic disturbances to affect ecosystem structure, function, and stability.
Small-scale anthropogenic modifications to a marsh can have landscape-scale impacts, both positively and negatively, with climate driven sea-level rise. Our restoration work seeks to uncover the additive impact that small-scale development and subsequent restoration can impart on a system. Uncovering elevation and hydrologic drivers of natural recovery can help prioritize restoration science to restore functioning of a system rather than structure of a system. By restoring natural functioning, we may allow the system to naturally restore its structure.
Living shoreline restoration is an alternative to hard armoring that will potentially allow the coastal system to 'keep up' with sea level rise. We documented the impact multiple small-scale living shoreline restorations can have on entire system when considered additively.
We are also involved in an ongoing large-scale analysis of oyster reef restoration ecological impact, from New jersey to Louisiana.