The ENVS Graduate Student Experience

Our graduate students come to us from all over the world, studying important and influential research topics in many fields bridging the social and natural sciences. Here are a few of our graduate students, discussing their experiences in the Environmental Studies Doctoral Program, and their research interests.


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    Peter Brewitt

    I research dam removal, a new phenomenon with huge promise for river restoration. I focus on the politics of dams and salmon on the West Coast, where people – irrigators, environmentalists, utilities, native tribes, and everyone else – connect strongly to their rivers and fight hard for them. I see political concerns as the most important barrier to river restoration, and overcoming those concerns as the key to sustainable watershed management regimes. My work combines political science, environmental history, and restoration ecology, and also touches upon hydrology, engineering, and economics. The interdisciplinary nature of the issue – of all environmental issues – is an important part of why I chose our department at UCSC. The coursework, and even more importantly the conversations I have with my colleagues (who are also my friends) have prepared me to engage with dam removal on all levels. In the field, I spend some of my time interviewing politicians and activists, some it going through newspaper archives, and some of it snorkeling after Chinook salmon. At the end of my project, I expect to know how people make dam removal happen, how communities’ relationships with their rivers have changed, and how (and whether) salmonid populations expand upstream after dam removal.


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    Heather Briggs

    Pollinator species are increasingly at risk of local and global extinction from human activities, including habitat loss, introduction of alien species and global climate change. The loss of insect-mediated pollination is potentially devastating because it is required for reproduction of nearly 90% of plant species in the world. Among other problems, if disrupting pollination services reduces plant reproduction enough to affect plant population dynamics, such reproduction disruptions could dramatically limit the ability of plant populations to adapt to climate change. Global climate change is projected to disrupt the overlap in plant flowering time and of pollinator emergence/foraging activity leading to potentially mismatched interactions. My primary research interest is assessing the resilience of plant/pollinator networks to climate change. My dissertation work will provide a strong basis for improved predictive models that will be useful in anticipating likely changes in pollination services, and designing strategies to maximize ecosystem resilience. The empirical component of my research is conducted at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic, Colorado. http://rmbl.org  RMBL is an ideal area to conduct climate change research as montane systems are expected to be disproportionately affected by climate change due to their exposure to low temperatures and short growing season. For more information on my research see the Gilbert Lab Page.


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    Tara Cornelisse

    My research investigates both the social and ecological components to endangered species conservation, with an aim to get more science into management and policy. Specifically, for my dissertation work, I integrate habitat requirements with metapopulation factors and population viability to conserve the endangered Ohlone tiger beetle, a Santa Cruz County endemic. The Ohlone tiger beetle depends on disturbance and so only occurs in areas that support grazing and/or recreation. While recreation maintains beetle habitat, it can also cause mortality; thus, recreation management is an important aspect of Ohlone tiger beetle conservation. I engage the recreation community through outreach and in-person surveys that allow me to analyze how knowledge affects both their attitudes toward the beetle as well as stated behaviors in beetle habitat. Because my research incorporates both the social and ecological aspects in the conservation of this unique species, the Environmental Studies Department has been instrumental in my success. In ENVS, I have worked with both natural and social scientists to achieve the interdisciplinary background and support I need to accomplish my research goals. Check out my lab website and my blog.


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    Sharifa G. Crandall

    My doctoral research investigates which traits make forest plants thirsty and sick, that is, susceptible to drought and disease. Climate change impacts western forests by increasing drought frequency and duration. Shifts in temperature and precipitation, in turn, can affect forest species function and survival. I use functional trait data to investigate emerging plant disease epidemics in coastal redwood and mixed-evergreen forests. My research questions span different scales from populations to ecosystems: Are host plant and pathogen populations locally adapted to certain environmental sites and conditions? Which fungal pathogen species are most likely to flourish under drier and hotter climatic conditions? How do forest epidemics affect native plant species diversity? How can we manage for plant diseases given different ecosystem types and land-use priorities in coastal Californian forests?

    The faculty and students in the Environmental Studies department are an amazing community of advisors, colleagues, and friends. Their varied expertise and backgrounds create a thought-provoking and supportive research environment! If you are interested in more specific information about graduate life at UC Santa Cruz and in our department, please do contact me. My contact information is on my website.  


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    Getachew Eshete

    I came from Ethiopia to UC Santa Cruz in Fall 2008 for the Environmental studies Ph.D. program. Since then I took various departmental courses and attended seminars offered by both Departmental mentors and outside academic and professional communities, with interdisciplinary experiences and interests. The enlightening formal and informal academic discussions, among vibrant mentors and graduate students here, have improved my theoretical knowledge and analytical skills to do research in a broader perspective, and to perceive the world beyond my experiences, beliefs and skills.  The friendly atmosphere in our Department is also remarkable.
    I am generally interested in human-environment interactions that affect biodiversity, ecosystem services and local livelihoods under changing environments. For my dissertation, I explore the effects of land use changes on plant biodiversity and ecosystem services vital to livelihoods of subsistence farmers in southwest Ethiopia, the birth place of Arabica coffee. Using ethnographic, ecological and remote sensing techniques, I examine (1) the extent of deforestation and its impact on biodiversity (2) the relative roles of shade-coffee systems in the conservation of woody species diversity and (3) the environmental and anthropogenic factors that affect species and functional group diversity in the remnant forests and (4) the abundance and distribution of ecosystem goods and services in relation to fragmentation and land use change. My findings show the specific threats of land use change and deforestation whilst a higher diversity of woody species in small-holder coffee systems which demonstrates the potential of human-dominated landscapes in supporting significant biodiversity and vital ecosystem services in these rapidly changing landscapes.


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    Jeffrey Jenkins

    I am interested in understanding the mining industry for elements used in climate change mitigation technologies such as wind turbines and electric vehicles. I engage with political ecology, extractive industries, renewable energy policy and commodity chain frameworks. My research focus uses qualitative interview methods, geospatial technologies, life cycle analysis and policy review. More specifically, I chose the Environmental Studies program at UCSC for its interdisciplinary nature, which is allowing me to understand the complex set of interactions that have allowed humans to reshape the environment through institutions, incentives and structures. It's my hope that as a social scientist (with a human geography and regional planning background) I will be able to gain an understanding of the physical sciences like ecology and climatology so as to better understand anthropogenic effects and solutions to environmental challenges. My previous research in Latin America is complimented by a domestic focus, and faculty both in the department and throughout campus are helping me to understand the geopolitical implications between each in a global context.


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    Carlo Moreno

    In the Venezuelan Andes, potato production represents a principal source of rural economic and livelihood activities. Of mounting concern among producers in the region is the proliferation of Tecia solanivora, an introduced tuber pest capable of reducing potato yields by 90% or more. Surprisingly, the importance of two semi-traditional potato production practices (i.e. native seed cultivation and long fallow tenure) as viable integrated pest management strategies has been overlooked, despite 1) reports from local farmers that the native Negra Arbolona potato variety is resistant to tuber pest attack, and 2) evidence indicating that 5+ year fallow periods can restore predatory and parasitic arthropod complexes which, in turn, may regulate tuber pests in surrounding potato plots. I use a participatory research approach to spatially assess the relationships between plot-level potato varietal composition, landscape-level long fallow area, and natural enemy-mediated tuber pest suppression in smallholder potato producing communities. In addition, a sustainable livelihoods framework will be used to analyze the linkages between semi-traditional fallow/varietal cultivation strategies, access to capital resources, and livelihood resistance and resilience among potato producers amid unstable market and climatic conditions. Visit the Gliessman Lab's website for more information.


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    Ann Drevno

    I chose to pursue a PhD in Environmental Studies at University of California, Santa Cruz because of the interdisciplinary approach towards research and teaching, the breadth and depth of knowledge and interests of faculty and graduate students, as well as the ideal location to undertake research in my field of interest.  My research focus is on water quality policy in agriculture on the Central Coast of California.    I have a background in teaching, research, field work and hands on experience in sustainable agriculture, including receiving a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) Apprenticeship program at UCSC.  I hope to combine these experiences with my interest in understanding the broader environmental regulatory policy questions of how optimal agricultural-environmental-social-political systems best operate.  I am grateful to have found such a supportive academic community and a wealth of opportunities for teaching and research.


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    Catherine Wade

    I spend my summers in the eastern Sierra Nevada studying ecological and socioeconomic factors that influence wildfire risk and hazard mitigation in the context of climate change.  The ecological component of my work investigates ecosystem and plant responses to global change drivers in the sagebrush steppe.  Sagebrush steppe ecosystems are one of the most widespread in the western U.S., yet also one of the most vulnerable to large-scale ecosystem conversion from global change drivers such as non-native species invasions, climate change, and nitrogen deposition.  Throughout much of the Great Basin, intact sagebrush steppe communities are vanishing due to a positive feedback loop between flammable non-native grass invasions and fire.  I study the effects of future global change scenarios on interactions between native and invasive species and fire fuel phenology and characteristics.  My social science research focuses on fire risk management challenges in the wildland-urban interface and the influences of social and demographic change accompanying rapid population growth on collective action, mitigation, and perceptions of risk and responsibility.  My goals are to improve predictions for future impacts on fire regimes and associated management and mitigation efforts.


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    Tiffany Wise-West

    The primary objective of my doctoral research experience is to build expertise to identify sustainable policies and strategies that affect technically and economically efficient and socially acceptable solutions to the challenges at the water-energy nexus. My current work includes sustainable water and renewable energy workforce development and applied energy efficiency projects.  My dissertation work focuses on drivers, barriers, and potential contribution of community-scale wind energy to the overall US renewable energy transition.  I draw upon the complementary theories of bureaucracy and new institutional economics (NIE), linking technical efficiency and feasibility of community-scale wind systems to the bureaucratic and social processes that drive or impede their development. I conduct this interdisciplinary research utilizing econometric techniques paired with qualitative inquiry such as semi-structured interviews with stakeholders and regulatory players.  The central questions posed by my dissertation research include: What role does community scale wind energy play in a regional energy portfolio? Why are community-scale wind energy installations implemented in the United States? Is community-scale wind compatible with existing sociopolitical institutions? Do institutional or technical barriers prevent expansion of small-scale wind energy?


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