Within the Department, ecology covers a wide range of topics from nutrient cycling to ecological energetics. Specialties include terrestrial, aquatic, marine, and population ecology; resource conservation; and management of ecosystem resources. Fields of application within ecology include: aquatic ecology; fisheries consulting; forestry and agricultural management; parks and recreation; planning and management; resource conservation; toxic soil and water pollution research.
Ecology is the study of interactions among organisms and their environment. Researchers in the department study biotic and abiotic components of terrestrial ecosystems at levels that range from organismal to community-level, and use a variety of methods including field and greenhouse experiments, laboratory analyses, remote sensing, and ecological modeling. Research topics include carbon storage in forest ecosystems; spruce beetle outbreak dynamics; the role of invasive species in ecosystem dynamics; effects of artificial light on ecological systems; the role of volatile organic compounds in plant-insect interactions, and factors that affect behavior and colony fitness of native bees.
Research on coastal systems in the department covers a broad range of disciplines and environments. Studied systems include seagrass meadows, coral reefs, mangrove forests, salt marshes and barrier islands. Our diverse research groups study the ecology, hydrology and geomorphology of these various systems. Current research focuses include plant genetics, carbon storage, sea level rise, flow regimes, aquaculture, primary production and metabolism, invasive species and more. This research takes place in many locations, including Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Florida and the Caribbean, Israel, Panama, Hawaii and Mexico.
Biogeoscience is a systems approach to solving complex environmental issues. Researchers can better understand ecosystems by studying interdisciplinary processes such as nutrient cycling, ecological population dynamics, isotope geochemistry, watershed hydrology and many others. Current research topics include terrestrial carbon influence on lake ecosystems, mercury and carbon dynamics in streams, nitrogen fluxes in low-relief watersheds, recovery from acid deposition in mountain streams, nitrogen budgets on permaculture farms, and early warnings indicators of ecosystem regime shifts. Field sites include Shenandoah National Park (SWAS-VTSS), University of Notre Dame-Environmental Research Center, the Pace Estate, and Timbercreek Organics.
Humans interact and alter each of the earth systems studied in the department. Researchers in the department collaborate across natural and social science disciplines to better understand the interactions between humans and the environment. Recent work in this area has focused on the environmental impacts of food production, including the development of a nitrogen footprint, possibilities for yield gap closure, and mapping the global virtual water and seafood trade networks. Additional social-environmental research aims to evaluate the effect of weather events on air quality and human health, assess the possibility of credits for carbon sequestration in sea grass beds, and understand the drivers and consequences of land use change in the tropics.