CALFED Science Fellows Class of 2007

January 01, 2007
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Through the CALFED Science Fellows Program, early-career scientists, CALFED agency scientists and senior academic research mentors collaborate on research of direct relevance to CALFED's broad goals of maintaining a reliable water supply and improving ecosystem health.

On behalf of the CALFED Science Program, California Sea Grant annually administers a call for research proposals from doctoral students and post-doctoral researchers (with the backing of their research mentors) that assist in meeting the scientific objectives and policy actions of priority to CALFED.

California Sea Grant is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of CALFED Science Fellowships:

Susanne Brander, Department of Environmental Toxicology, UC Davis

Alex Fremier, Department of Forest and Natural Resource Management, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Sara Hughes, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, UC Santa Barbara

Susan Lang, Geosciences Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Lisa Schile, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UC Berkeley

Heidi Weiskel, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis

Susanne Brander

Susanne Brander is a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Toxicology at UC Davis. She studies the sub-lethal effects of toxins on aquatic life. Brander's interest in biology was sparked by an internship with the Nature Conservancy. Although she graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration (1999), subsequent volunteer fieldwork with sea turtle conservation groups in Greece, Thailand and the U.S. Virgin Islands solidified her decision to pursue post-graduate studies in biology, not business. In 2004, she earned her master’s in environmental science and policy at Johns Hopkins University and soon afterwards accepted a position as an analyst at Weston Solutions, an environmental consulting firm in Tiburon, Calif., in Marin County. Her experiences there fomented her concerns about the effects of pollution on wildlife. Though still passionate about conservation, her current CALFED research focuses on the effects of endocrine disrupting compounds on fish reproduction and health. She hopes her research will contribute to a better understanding of the causes of pelagic organism declines in the Bay-Delta.

Progress Report Year 1 [BranderYr1.pdf]

Final Report [BranderFinal.pdf]

Project Abstract

Endocrine Disruption in the Delta: Confirming Sites' Known Estrogenicity with Outplants, Histology, and Choriogenin Level Measurements
Project Number: R/SF-27
Susanne Brander, UC Davis, 707.875-1974 or 707.227.0384 (cell),
Research Mentor: Gary Cherr, Department of Environmental Toxicology, Bodega Marine
Laboratory, UC Davis

In parallel with an ongoing CALFED study of feminization of salmon in the San Francisco Bay-Delta, this project will examine the effects of endocrine disrupting contamination on the ubiquitous inland silverside fish (Menidia beryllina). By comparing the effects of endocrine disrupting compounds on different fish species, the CALFED Fellow hopes to identify which compounds are most harmful. She will conduct “outplanting” experiments to compare the effects of contamination at different sites to laboratory controls. In July 2008, in collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff, she began sampling silverside fish at a number of sites to determine if endocrine disrupting compounds are detectable and if so, where. She has also identified an antibody that cross-reacts with the protein choriogenin. She plans to use this protein as a biomarker of exposure to estrogenic chemicals in future work.

Alex Fremier

Alex Fremier is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Forest and Natural Resource Management at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, N.Y. His expertise is in modeling river channel migration and floodplain forest dynamics. Before coming to New York, he held a one-year grant from the Japan Society of the Promotion of Science to study patterns of woody debris transport, storage and export in “multiple-nested” watersheds in Japan. During his CALFED Fellowship, he will apply this expertise to cottonwood forest ecology and restoration in the Central Valley. Fremier earned his doctorate in ecology in 2007 from UC Davis and his master’s in geography in 2003, also from UC Davis. Before embarking on an academic track, he was a software engineer in San Leandro, Calif., a Peace Corps volunteer in Kathmandu, Nepal and a Wilderness Ranger for the USDA Forestry Service in Leadville, Colo.

Progress Report Year 1 [FremierYr1.pdf]

Progress Report Year 2 [FremierYr2.pdf]

Progress Report Year 3 [R-SF-25-Yr3.pdf]

Project Abstract

Modeling Physical Drivers and Age Structure of Cottonwood Forest Habitat: An Integrated Systems Approach
Project Number: R/SF-25
Alex Fremier, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, 315.470.4902,
Research Mentor: John Stella, Department of Forest and Natural Resource Management, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse.

The ultimate goal of this project is to improve the long-term prospects for restoring and protecting one of the signature species of the Central Valley’s riparian ecosystem – the Fremont cottonwood. Toward this end, the CALFED Fellow will model the physical processes driving river channel migration and cottonwood habitat creation along a 100-mile stretch of the Sacramento River from Red Bluff to Colusa. The Nature Conservancy, resource agencies and other stakeholders view this stretch of river as a prime site for conservation and restoration because the river still migrates naturally and is not confined by levees. If the modeling effort is successful, the model will be used to generate predictions of how cottonwood forests will fare in the future under various physical states, including different climate scenarios, flow regimes and floodplain sedimentation rates. The results could help identify high-value habitat and plan corridor-wide conservation efforts.

Sarah Hughes

Sara Hughes is a doctoral student at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. She studies the human dimensions of resource management, in particular as it relates to water issues in California. In 2007, used a Fullbright Postgraduate Award to study and evaluate water policies in Australia, at the University of South Australia’s Centre for Comparative Water Policies and Laws in Adelaide. The region has suffered from almost a decade of severe drought and faces many of the same challenges as California, in terms of allocating water resources and balancing growth with conservation of biologically important riparian habitats. Hughes holds a master’s from Michigan State University’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (2006). Her thesis assessed the status of Michigan’s groundwater policies. She has also been a field technician for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Resources Division in Hawaii, where she collected data on local tropical bird populations. She hopes her CALFED Fellowship will contribute solutions to water management challenges facing California and assist with efforts to recover at-risk fish species in the Delta. “I am excited to have the opportunity to invest my research efforts in California,” she said.

Progress Report Year 1 [HughesYr1.pdf]

Progress Report Year 2 [HughesYr2.pdf]

Final Report [HughesYr3.pdf]

Project Abstract

Environmental Water: Developing Indicators and Identifying Opportunities
Project Number: R/SF-30
Sara Hughes, UC Santa Barbara, 810-515-7926,
Research mentor: Oran Young, Department of Environmental Science and Management, UC Santa Barbara

This project examines the policies and practices that influence how water is used in the Bay-Delta. Specifically, the CALFED Fellow is comparing urban water management policies in San Francisco and Sacramento, as they relate to the goals of CALFED's Environmental Water Account project – a conservation-oriented project to help protect at-risk fish species by maintaining sufficient water for them. The water account establishes a mechanism for purchasing water rights to build a water bank for the express purpose of maintaining sufficient flows for target, vulnerable fish species. One anticipated outcome of this project is improved awareness, coordination and communication between cities and the Environmental Water Account. It is hoped that this will encourage cities, CALFED and decision-makers to improve inter-governmental coordination to better address current and future water policy challenges.

Susan Lang

Susan Lang is a postdoctoral researcher in the Geosciences Research Division of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. She studies the cycling of organic matter in marine ecosystems and is especially interested in using organic geochemistry as an investigational tool for studying where, why and how organisms interact with the environment. Of particular interest is tracking the sources of organic matter used by primary producers through the food chain. In previous research, Lang used geochemical tracers in fluids ejected from hydrothermal vents to study the seafloor crust’s biosphere. For this work, she earned a doctorate in chemical oceanography from the University of Washington in Seattle in 2006. Lang’s interest in using novel techniques to study basic science questions began while an undergraduate at M.I.T. in Boston, where she worked in a laboratory that used lasers to examine the behaviors of electrons in a single, small organic compound. She later spent a summer working in a laboratory at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Mass. “That experience sold me on oceanography in general and organic geochemistry specifically,” she said.

Progress Report Year 1 [LangYr1.pdf]

Final Report [LangYr2.pdf]

Project Abstract

Investigating the Lower Trophic Levels of Suisun Bay Food Web: A Biomarker-Specific
Isotope Approach

Project Number: R/SF-26
Susan Lang, UC San Diego, 206.920.6607,
Research Mentor: Lihini Aluwihare, Geosciences Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Living organisms produce unique organic molecules that can be detected in the environment posthumously. This project is based on the premise that the isotopic composition of compounds unique to a wide range of primary producers will allow the CALFED Fellow to identify sources of organic carbon supporting zooplankton in Suisun Bay. Chlorophyll isotopes, for example, may distinguish phytoplankton growing in the Sacramento River from those in the San Francisco Estuary. In the first year of the project, the fellow went on several trips to collect samples and is currently in the process of analyzing them for biomarker concentrations and isotopic signatures. The hope is that new biomarkers will enable managers to more clearly recognize, in advance, the consequences of various water management options on pelagic species.

Lisa Schile

Lisa Schile is a doctoral student in ecosystem sciences in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. She studies West Coast wetland ecology and restoration, especially as it relates to climate change. She has significant experience in multi-agency, cooperative wetland ecology projects, as she was the project coordinator for the vegetation team of the California Bay-Delta Authority’s Integrated Regional Wetland Monitoring Pilot Project. She helped monitor sediment dynamics at three restored sites included in the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Program –the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the U.S. West Coast. She has also worked at NOAA’s San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, mapping vegetation at Rush Ranch marsh. Schile holds a master’s in biology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, La. (2003). Her thesis examined the effects of rising salinity levels in a brackish marsh in Louisiana on plant-insect interactions. Her doctoral research is focused on understanding and addressing the problems posed by rising sea level for wetland restoration and conservation in the Bay-Delta.

Progress Report Year 1 [SchileYr1.pdf]

Final Report [SchileFinal.pdf]

Project Abstract

Tidal wetland vegetation response to climate change in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Project Number: R/SF-28
Lisa Schile, UC Berkeley, 510.642.8322,
Research Mentor: N. Maggi Kelly, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and
Management, UC Berkeley

In the San Francisco Bay-Delta, global warming (i.e., sea level rise and altered precipitation patterns) is expected to lead to more saline conditions and higher water levels. How will these changes affect wetland plants in the Bay-Delta? Which species will persist under changing conditions and where? To address these and other questions, the CALFED Fellow is mapping the region’s current distribution of dominant plant species (e.g., California cordgrass, tule, bulrush, pickleweed and cattails). The fellow will also conduct transplant and greenhouse experiments to establish plant tolerances to salinity and inundation. After these experiments are done, she and other CALFED-funded researchers will use GIS analyses to spatially model the predicted vegetation patterns in the estuary under future climate scenarios. It is predicted that freshwater marshes will become scarce in the future and that as a result, brackish marshes will become the region’s most common tidal wetland ecosystem.

Heidi Weiskel

Heidi Weiskel is a doctoral student in ecology in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis. She studies how marine systems respond to environmental stress, with the goal of improving restoration and conservation of sensitive habitats. Her current research focuses on one aspect of this larger topic, that of understanding the effects of nutrient pollution in the San Francisco Bay on the region’s bioinvasion ecology. Do nutrients affect invasive species differently than native ones? Can nutrient pollution favor the success of invasive species over native ones? “I aim to learn how increased nutrients in marine systems can influence invasion success and how nutrient increases might affect native-invasive species interactions and alter benthic communities,” she said. Weiskel holds a master’s in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine (2002) for her study of marine mammal conservation and its intersection with fisheries policy in Argentina. Previous work experience includes being an English professor at the University of Buenos Aires, a science editor for the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in Paris and the director of pollution policy for the Pew Oceans Commission in Arlington, Va. In her free time, she enjoys mentoring local high school students, particularly girls interested in pursuing careers in science and backpacking in the mountains.

Progress Report Year 1 [WeiskelYr1.pdf]

Progress Report Year 2 [WeiskelYr2.pdf]

Project Abstract

Nutrients and Benthic Invasion Dynamics in San Francisco Bay
Project Number: R/SF-29
Heidi Weiskel, UC Davis, 530.902.0878,
Research Mentor: Edwin Grosholz, Associate Specialist in Cooperative Extension, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis

In the first year of the project, the CALFED Fellow examined the potentially critical relationship between nutrient pollution in the San Francisco Bay-Delta and invasion-related disturbance by the invasive mud snail (Ilyanassa obsoleta) on the native mud snail (Cerithidea californica). Preliminary findings suggest that where both species coexist, the invasive snail displaces the native one through “behavioral interactions.” Adding nutrients to open mudflats increased microalgal biomass and increased native, but not invasive, snail growth. When snails were present at high densities, adding nutrients reduced mortality rates of both species, suggesting that nutrients somehow alleviate interspecies competition. The next step of the project will be to test the results in different estuarine habitats.

About California Sea Grant

NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Our headquarters is at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; we are one of 33 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.