Research Projects

Student and Faculty Research

Together with their faculty mentors, students work on transdisciplinary projects and in doing so, form strong connections with faculty and other outside organizations. Students engaged in research experience personal growth, develop confidence in their work, and advance their critical thinking skills. Below are some of the research and capstone projects our students and faculty are working on.

Brazilian waterweed in Fence Rock Lake

Summer Stebbins – M.S. in Environmental GIScience

Brazilian waterweed (Egeria densa) is an invasive aquatic plant from South America. It is often spread illegally through the aquarium trade because of its beauty. Unfortunately, aquarium dumping is a huge problem and can introduce this invasive across the United States. Identifying characteristics of Brazilian waterweed include their white flowers and whorled leaves of four. Brazilian waterweed is found throughout the United States. Photos courtesy of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Invasive Aquatic Plant Program (

Food Access in Denton, TX

Sherry Stevens – M.S. in Environmental GIScience

One-third of all the world’s food goes to waste (UN 2019). This waste happens in every step of the cycle, from food production (tossing food that doesn’t fit “quality” standards or rots before purchase), to consumer waste (trashing “excess” restaurant food and food gone bad in homes). Still, many people are food insecure or have difficulty accessing healthy foods. Factory farming and food distribution create pollution through the growing, processing, and transportation processes.

Moreover, climate change is set to disrupt large monocrop production. Unpredictable weather, floods and droughts are making large-scale farming a financial and environmental risk. Having a sustainable food base means polyculture, biodiversity, and being able to adapt to change. Having a variety of plants and animals with symbiotic relationships creates healthier microcosms with more nutrient-dense foods. Also, a variety of foods almost guarantees that if it is an off season for some, we can still have a fruitful harvest. This can be accomplished much easier on small scale, permaculture farms.

The Twiga Walinzi Initiative

Jenna Stacy-Dawes – M.S. in Environmental GIScience

In 2016, San Diego Zoo Global along with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Northern Rangelands Trust, Loisaba, Namunyak and Lewa Conservancies, The Nature Conservancy, Sarara Camp, and others, in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service launched a collaborative community-lead conservation effort in northern Kenya to help save the reticulated giraffe species from extinction.

Giraffe are one of the most iconic animals in Africa and around the world. Unlike lions, cheetahs, leopards, and elephants, giraffes are uniquely African. Historically their range extended over large portions of southern and eastern Africa. However, that range is decreasing. Across Africa, giraffe populations have declined by about 40% and in December of 2016 the IUCN Red List officially listed giraffe as “Vulnerable” to extinction.

The Future of Alaska’s Wild Places

Emma Bouchard – M.S. in Environmental GIScience

While Alaska is home to some of the largest tracts of wildlands in the world, it’s also the site of some of the most threatened. Dual pressures of climate change and resource development have placed many of Alaska’s wildlands at a pivotal moment in history.

A Framework for Monitoring Nightjars in Maine

Logan Parker – M.S. in Sustainable Natural Resource Management

Maine’s nightjars, the Eastern Whip-poor-will and the Common Nighthawk, are in decline throughout their entire breeding ranges. The extent of the decline in Maine is currently unknown. Monitoring efforts have sprung up throughout the country in response to widespread anecdotal reports of declines, the outcome of which has led conservation prioritization of these species in several states and provinces.

In 2017, such a monitoring effort was begun in Maine and expanded through a partnership with the Maine Bird Atlas in 2018. Field methods have been tested and baseline data collected. Now, at the onset of the project’s third year, the project endeavors to expand the program and begin collecting data of biological significance which can be used to inform conservation policies and actions in Maine. Using the baseline data collected from 21 nightjar monitoring routes in 2018, we have conducted power analysis using Monte Carlo simulation in the R package SIMR to determine the number of routes that will need to be monitored each season in order for population trends to be observed. The results of this analysis have indicated that 63 and 82 routes would need to be run annually to detect a decline ≥20% over a 10-year period at 80% power for Eastern Whip-poor-will and Common Nighthawk respectively.

Pollinator Gardens

Sue Opperman – M.S. in Sustainable Natural Resource Management

My capstone project on pollinator gardens was a jumping-off point that’s already led me to multiple other projects. I’m currently working on installing a pocket park in my neighborhood with native pollinator plant landscaping, I have created a state-wide advocacy group that helps people with native gardens (which plants will thrive where, etc), I’m coordinating with the City to incorporate native landscaping into city managed areas, and have begun a campaign to have a native flower (the purple coneflower) named as the official flower of the City. Last week, I hosted a city-wide “seed swap and gardeners social” that had hundreds of attendees. And I’m coordinating the installation of vegetable beds at a local elementary school.

Impact of Riverside Homeless Encampments on Water Quality

Wade LeonardM.S. in Sustainable Natural Resource Management

The environmental impact of homelessness is often an overlooked concern in terms of the various effects poverty can have on a society. In the Santa Ana River Watershed, the region of Riverside, CA has become a critical location for the development of homeless encampments along the river (Guerre, 2018). The Inland Empire Waterkeeper (IEW) organization has developed the Clean Camp Coalition (CCC) program in order to mitigate the environmental repercussions of increased trash dumping throughout the city’s stretch of river. After determining that the rivers water quality was severely deteriorating due to increased exposure to pollutants as a result of its proximity to numerous homeless encampments (Guerre, 2018), the IEW sought to mitigate these effects with trash collection assistance and homeless outreach services. An assessment of this programs methodology has been conducted in order to compare the program’s effectiveness and results with similar existing programs. Results have indicated that the river’s water quality has remained relatively constant following the implementation of the CCC’s riverside trash cleanup project.