My research program draws on theory and tools from ecology, anthropology, bioethics, and the study of complex adaptive systems to test assumptions about the relationship between communal and personal values, local socioeconomic needs, and their effects on ecosystem structure.
Specifically, I am interested in measuring the effects of conservation on life in several communities living near Masoala National Park - Madagascar’s largest, and a paradigm case of the Integrated Conservation and Development Projects model employed globally.
Many persistent conflicts in the conservation realm effectively center on questions of who gets to decide which natural resources are off limits to whom, rather than any disagreement over the fundamental concept of conservation as a good.
My research aims to illustrate how shared values and goals are necessary but not sufficient to result in "win-win" outcomes with regard to resource allocation in conservation contexts. Using ethnographic data and bioethical theory, I am interested in exploring forms of deliberative, communicative rationality that can resolve these tensions.
An element key to building sustainable conservation areas is the capacity of local people to monitor changes to indicator species and modify their behaviors (e.g. hunting, timing and frequency of swidden burns) accordingly.
In my research, I use data and models derived from exploratory analyses of socio-ecological variables to identify key indicators of ecological decline. I aim to use these refined models to develop low-cost tools that will enable ongoing measurement and monitoring of critical ecological signals by local communities.
If we want to understand the processes driving change in a complex, dynamic system like a rainforest from measurements of their current state, an impossible number of factors would need to be accounted for, evolving in a seemingly chaotic way a result of the emergent properties of interacting agents.
Instead of approaching modeling the system as a whole, we can devise a much more simple set of rules for individual agents to follow, and observe how variations in those rules affect the conformation of the system as a whole. I am specifically interested in developing such agent-based models to understand how systems of land use and inheritance in the Masoala have shaped the biotic communities surrounding human settlements, using ground-truthed ethnographic and ecological data.
Preserving Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is a critical component of both maintaining local resiliency to external economic stresses (e.g. by ensuring access to medicines) and safeguarding future claims on any pharmaceutic compounds derived from TEK for otherwise marginalized communities.
Working with local parabotanists in Northeast Madagascar, I am conducting an ongoing photographic & ethnobotanic inventory of rainforest plants to further the preservation of this important data within and for the communities that generated them.
Though it may seem a departure from the preceding anthropocentric research foci, lemurs and their amazing variety of adaptations were what first brought me to Madagascar as an undergraduate. From exploring genomic signatures of selection in aye-ayes to describing the evolutionary relationships between extinct and extant lemur families, I have a long and abiding interest in the natural history of these fascinating creatures.
A huge amount of data on the extent, state, and functioning of forest ecosystems is available in the form of publicly-accessible LANDSAT-7 & -8 remote spectroscopy data. In tandem with colleagues working on describing human impacts on floristic communities at archaeological sites, I am working on methods for correlating such spectral data with ecological measurements taken on the ground in Madagascar, with the goal of cheaply monitoring characteristic signatures of anthropogenic disturbance in remote regions of threatened ecosystems.
Perl's ubiquity in early bioinformatics was my initial impetus for learning this famously "write-only" language, but before long, its versatile toolkit for text manipulation and built-in regular expression handling rendered it one of my go-to tools for data processing. A small assortment of handy Perl scripts I have written to do basic operations in bioinformatics are available on my GitHub page; click the logo to browse.
What it lacks in raw syntactic flexibility relative to Perl, R makes up for in modularity and sheer ease-of-use, thanks to a burgeoning cottage industry of open source scientific and statistical libraries. While much of my experience with R is in crafting bespoke graphics and statistical analyses for publications with little broad appeal, more generalizable R scripts and modules are/will be posted to my Github page as well.
Certain datasets from my ethnographic research (e.g. income, species abundance, and ethnobotanical use data) are not shareable with the public for reasons of participant anonymity and safety, as well as for protection from bioprospecting.
I would nonetheless be excited to hear from colleagues, students, NGOs, or other credentialed individuals about potential collaborative projects involving these data, working within pre-arranged parameters to ensure data integrity and security. For inquiries along these lines, please reach out using the contact page.