My overall research goal is to combine basic natural history and modern techniques in remote sensing, population genetics, radio telemetry, and statistical modeling to answering fundamental ecological questions about the way that animals, their habitats, and human pressures interact. Below, you will find short summaries of my current and recent research projects.


Current Projects

Space-Use of Overwintering Lesser black-backed gulls in Andalucia

Lesser black-backed gulls gather by the hundreds to feed in a flooded rice field under active tilling. Isla Mayor, Spain.  (c) C. van Rees 2018

My Fulbright Scholars project in collaboration with Andy J. Green and Javier Bustamante at la Estación Biológia de Doñana in Sevilla, Spain. Anthropogenic wetlands like rice fields are rapidly becoming important coping mechanisms for waterbirds threatened by the impacts of climate change on natural freshwater wetlands. As the hydrology of these wetlands is altered, many waterbirds increasingly rely on human-made wetlands as a supplementary habitat to complete their life cycles. We are studying the ways that Lesser black-backed gulls, a common winter waterbird in southern Spain, use rice field habitats in an effort to better understand how such habitats can be managed to support waterbird populations under climate change.

Reviewing Threats to Tropical Island Wetlands

Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) wetland on Hummingbird Cay, the Bahamas (c) C. van Rees 2016

Tropical wetlands are sensitive communities that have strong effects on surrounding hydrology, adjacent terrestrial ecosystems, and on the economies of local communities. These ecosystems support wetland-specialized species, but also provide complementary resources for a number of facultative species, and a diversity of critical social, cultural, and economic services for people. Existing at the interface of terrestrial and aquatic systems, wetlands are especially sensitive to anthropogenic modification of either hydrology of local landscape conditions, making them doubly vulnerable human impact. In collaboration with Jessica Rozek, another member of the Reed Research Group, I am reviewing existing literature on wetlands on tropical islands to find common themes of ecological functions, services, and risks unique to these increasingly rare systems.

Improving the use of Ecological Data in Integrated Water Management

Cascade springs, a groundwater-fed stream in South Dakota (c) C. van Rees, 2017

Water problems in the new millennium typically involve multiple stakeholders with competing interests managing shared and limited water resources under a high degree of uncertainty. Recent approaches like Integrated Water Resources Management and Water Diplomacy seek to integrate knowledge from many scientific and applied disciplines like political science, economics, hydrology, and civil engineering to generate adaptive, integrated solutions to these difficult problems. The role of ecological information in these frameworks is somewhat limited and poorly defined. One of my major interests is in improving the way that ecological information is used in water management decision-making; ideally by providing opportunities for mutual gains between human and wildlife water users. I am currently working with collaborators from the Tufts Water Diplomacy IGERT on a series of papers that highlight how ecology is a powerful and essential tool for solving 21st century water resources conflicts. Our first paper was published in the Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education.

Past Projects

Doctoral Dissertation: Conservation & Connectivity of the `Alae `ula

The `Alae `ula or Hawaiian gallinule (Gallinula galeata sandvicensis) is an endangered

Removing a molting adult Hawaiian gallinule from a trap, James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, Kahuku, HI. Photo (c) Jeremy Orozco, 2014

subspecies of rail endemic to the Hawaiian islands. `Alae `ula were once found on all of Hawaii’s main islands, but they have since gone locally extinct on all islands except O`ahu and Kaua`i. Though their numbers are beginning to recover, today’s `Alae `ula are faced with a vastly different landscape than the Hawai`i of even 150 years ago; wind farms, airports, highways, and sprawling cities now dot the landscape and may impede their ability to move between their wetland habitats. Whether or not `Alae `ula can navigate this new landscape may be of great importance to their conservation, and for answering fundamental questions in population ecology. I am using genetic markers, radio telemetry, and a citizen-science based tracking study to collect information on the movement behavior of `Alae `ula and how O`ahu’s shifting landscape affects their long-term persistence. Findings from this research have been published in Conservation Genetics, The Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management, Ecology and Evolution, and PeerJ.


Decision-making Frameworks for Cross-Realm Conservation in the Missouri Headwaters Basin

The Madison River, part of the MHB Watershed, and adjacent Riparian areas at Bear Trap Wilderness Area

Despite their myriad and important interactions, the
terrestrial and aquatic components of ecosystems are rarely integrated, and their research  and management are done separately, often by different institutions with different objectives. The Center for Large Landscape Conservation is piloting a collaborative, science-driven approach to highlighting opportunities for cross-realm (integrating terrestrial and aquatic systems) management of the Missouri Headwaters Basin (MHB), an ecologically and economically important watershed in Southwest Montana. As the aquatic ecosystems specialist on the project, I am synthesizing literature on riparian ecology and freshwater conservation and management issues in the MHB, and facilitating consultation of local experts for the design of a conceptual model of cross-realm ecology in the basin. Our team created a spatial prioritization tool to help decision-makers prioritize conservation efforts in the basin. You can read about the tool here.

Wetland loss on the Hawaiian Islands

Oahu_Wetlandloss.PNGWe used historic maps, soil surveys, hydrological  models, and high definition aerial photographs to estimate the current and historical coverage of wetland habitats on the Hawaiian islands before the arrival of Polynesian colonists, and compare it with current coverage. Our analysis showed that the Hawaiian islands have lost 15% of their wetlands, with the most severe wetland loss on O`ahu, where 65% of all wetlands, and nearly three-quarters of all low-elevation wetlands, have been lost to development. This study was published in the journal Wetlands.

Avian Diversity in Vietnamese Dragonfruit Farms

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERASince the 1990’s, Dragonfruit (Hylocereus undatus) has become one of Vietnam’s most profitable exports, supporting agriculture for nearly 9,000 small farming households in the southern part of the country. The steady growth in coverage of Dragonfruit plantations and the nation’s desire to improve the sustainability of Dragonfruit farms makes research on the conservation value of plantation lands a priority. We estimated avian diversity at several Dragonfruit plantations in Binh Thuan, Vietnam during Winter 2012. We found that no bird species directly used dragonfruit plants, but that small dragonfruit plantations could support impressive bird diversity when interspersed with fragments of forest, hedgerows, fallow land, and irrigation ponds.