Increasing anthropogenic demand for food, energy, and raw materials is driving global-scale environmental changes with profound impacts on biodiversity. Our research focuses on characterizing and mitigating human impacts on the environment, emphasizing on tropical and freshwater ecosystems. We combine fieldwork and experimental lab research with the development and application of cutting-edge theoretical, statistical, and meta-analytic modeling tools to conduct interdisciplinary, policy-relevant research across multiple spatial scales. Currently, we have field-based projects in the southern Appalachians in the US and in Kalimantan, Indonesia. We also investigate large-scale ecological processes using statistical modeling of museum and literature data at the regional (North America and SE Asia) and the global scale.
Land-Use and Climate Change Impacts
Much of the work in our lab focuses on elucidating how human land-use change and climate change affects the Earth's biota, as well as informing environmental policies and legislation to lessen such impacts. Previously, we have uncovered the impact of tropical oil-palm monoculture on freshwater fish communities and how preserving forests along streams can help mitigate some of these impacts, identified hotspots of highly vulnerable, endemic peat swamp fishes in SE Asia using data from museum records and field icthyologists, and examined trait correlates of fish extinctions due to urbanization. We also collaborated in studies that examined the impact of agriculture on stream fishes in the Campos of southern Brazil, the effect of fire suppression on woody plant biomass and diversity in the Brazilian Cerrado, and identified life-history traits that correlates with vulnerability toward selective logging in tropical forest birds globally.
Environmental Change in SE Asia
We are looking for enthusiastic, creative, motivated, and hardworking graduate students (MS and PhD) and undergraduate students to join us.
Our lab is inclusive, welcoming, and committed to advancing diversity; we welcome everyone regardless of their ethnicity, color, socioeconomic background, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and age. We especially encourage members of historically underrepresented groups including (but not limited to) people of color, women, veterans, and people from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities to inquire about opportunities.
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Currently, we are continuing our research in SE Asia to achieve a more complete understanding of human activities on biodiversity and local communities. Specifically, we are examining how the expansion of surface coal mining in Indonesia is driving changes in land-cover, water quality, biodiversity, and human livelihoods. Indonesia is ranked fifth in the world for coal production; only China, India, the US, and Australia produced more coal. Yet, little is known about the environmental and human implications of coal extraction in this biodiverse and rapidly changing region.
Climate Change Impacts in the Southern Appalachians
Our lab also seeks to understand how climate change is likely to affect aquatic biota. We are focusing on efforts on Southern Appalachia, a global hotspot for aquatic biodiversity. We are studying how climate change is likely to affect the unique ichthyofauna of this region by assessing how fishes use thermal habitat and respond to thermal stress. To do this, we combine field data collection, stream temperature modelling, and lab thermal experiments. Postdoctoral research associate Dr. Matt Troia is leading this project.
Community Assembly and Large-Scale Patterns in Ecology
Elucidating mechanisms that underlie large-scale biodiversity patterns is not only fundamentally interesting; it also helps to inform conservation management and prioritization strategies. Our research showed that environmental filtering and predator-prey interactions (but not interspecific competition) are key in shaping fish species co-occurrences in US streams. The importance of predator-prey interactions suggest habitat degradation and introductions of non-native predators are likely to have greater impact on native fish communities than introduction of non-native competitors. In another study, we identified drivers and interrelationships among different dimensions of rarity in stream fishes: local abundance, habitat breadth, and geographic range size.
We are currently working on a few projects along this research theme. One of these projects involves identifying hotspots of taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic rarity across the Upper Tennessee River basin - a hotspot of globally imperiled and endemic fish species - at an unprecedentedly high resolution, i.e., at stream reach scale. Our results will be used to identify current conservation gaps and inform future conservation policy. We (Xingli Giam & Matt Troia) are collaborating with Sam Borstein (Ph.D. candidate, O'Meara Lab, UT EEB), Ben Keck (Acting Curator, Etnier Ichthyological Collection & Adj. Asst. Professor, UT EEB), and Brian Alford (Asst. Professor, Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife at UT Institute of Agriculture) on this research.
Human Dimensions of Conservation
Human and environmental systems are inextricably linked. To inform effective conservation, there is a need to understand how humans perceive the natural environment, their attitudes toward conservation science and policy, and trade-offs between the economic benefits and social costs of development. For example, while some agricultural management strategies are effective in conserving biodiversity, the actual uptake of these practices depend in part on human demand. We therefore characterized consumer attitudes toward products made with zero-deforestation palm oil. Consumers did not discriminate against palm oil per se, but they were less likely to purchase a particular product if told that it contributes to deforestation. Consumers were also willing to pay 8-10% more for products containing zero-deforestation palm oil, which exceeded the premium (1.5-5%) paid to growers for sustainable palm oil. Our results show that improving consumer knowledge of ingredients in everyday products and their environmental footprint is likely effective in driving the demand for sustainable agricultural practices. We also collaborated in studies that examined attitudes of local communities toward the island flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) in Peninsular Malaysia, and the socioeconomics of shorebird conservation along the Inner Gulf of Thailand.
We are currently studying the factors that affect human attitudes toward environmental conservation and climate change. We are also developing a study to examine the socioeconomic and public health impacts of coal mining in Indonesia. Last, we are collaborating with Janice Lee (Asst. Professor, Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University) and Kwek Yan Chong (Senior Tutor, National University of Singapore) to investigate the effect of community participation on the effectiveness of peatland restoration in Sumatra, Indonesia.