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ESM E-Newsletter - Spring 2014


ESM E-Newsletter Winter 2014


Department of Environmental Science and Management

Spring 2014

Letter from the Chair

It is a great pleasure to share with you the many exciting accomplishments of our faculty, students, and alumni. This has been a very productive year for the Department. First, we continue to focus on our student success. In this spring, more than 100 students will graduate with BS/BA, MS, and Ph.D. degrees. Our graduate students continue to receive nationally competitive fellowships. Ariana Chiapella (Adviser: Angela Strecker), a PhD student, was recently awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. NSF received over 14,000 applications for the 2014 competition, and made 2,000 fellowship award offers. Meenakshi Rao (Adviser: Linda George) and Patrick Edwards (Adviser: Yangdong Pan), two doctoral students, were also awarded the 2014 summer NSF EAPSI Fellowship. Our faculty are engaged in active research on a wide range of environmental challenges. Professor Scheller received a research grant from the JointFire Science Program to manage fire and fuel treatments in Oregon forests using landscape-scalesimulations models. Professor Strecker received an Outstanding Researcher Award from Sigma Xi for her research on how anthropogenic stressors and other processes affect biodiversity and ecosystem function in freshwater systems. Additionally, more than 140 alumni and friends attended this year’s Annual Alumni Lecture night, which was kicked off by the ESM Alumni Association, who invited 10 outstanding alumni to engage a roundtable discussion with our seniors on environmental career pathways.

We look forward to sharing more exciting news with you in the coming year. Thank you for your interest and continued support!

Warm regards,

Professor Yangdong Pan

Chair, Environmental Science & Management


Focus on Graduate Students:
Christine Kendrick, PhD Candidate

What kind of air pollutants come from a road or highway? Do these pollutants reach my home? Are there methods to mitigate the traffic-related emissions or should I consider moving? Does using public transit, biking, or walking increase my exposure compared to driving along a roadway? These are some questions that Christine Kendrick, an ESM PhD student, is working to answer through her current dissertation research at Portland State University. Her work integrates measurements of air pollutants with traffic monitoring to characterize the concentrations of traffic-related air pollutants at the roadside of a major urban arterial road here in Portland. She also studies the potential of different traffic signal management policies to impact the short and long-term exposures encountered by urban populations within roadway environments. Air quality effects in transportation planning are traditionally evaluated based on regional, airshed models which do not capture the impacts of these exposures. In partnership with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the George Air Quality Research lab, she established a unique roadside monitoring station that continuously measures traffic-related pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), PM2.5 (particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter ≤ 2.5µm), local meteorology, traffic volumes and measures of traffic congestion along with episodic measurements of ultrafine particles (<0.1µm). The main thrust of the research is to understand how optimization of traffic signals affects roadside pollutant concentrations in order to evaluate how cities can reduce roadway emissions through a cost-effective mechanism.

Christine came to PSU after completing her BS in environmental health science from The University of Georgia, College of Public Health. There, she first got involved with research through the measurement of exposure for a neighborhood to trichloroethylene (TCE) and toxicological research characterizing inhalation exposures to jet fuel and other hydrocarbon mixtures. Christine’s doctoral advisor is Dr. Linda George who helped her transition into air quality research focused on the urban scale. Her dissertation research is currently supported through the award of an EPA STAR fellowship. She has worked as a research assistant on various grants related to the transportation microenvironment, received the Women’s Transportation Seminar Helene M. Overly scholarship, the Oregon Transportation Research Education Consortium (OTREC) Scholar award, ESM Graduate Award for Science and Research, was selected for a Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship, and received a Sigma Xi Grants in Aid of Research grant. Christine’s graduate experience and communication skills were enhanced through the support of the NSF GK-12 Fellowship. Through that project she worked in a 9th grade science classroom in Gresham High School for two years with Kathy Childress where they created curriculum to help students investigate the effect of land use on air and water quality.

As Christine continues her PhD work, she has also been working as an intern with the City of Portland, Bureau of Transportation in the Signals, Street Lighting, and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Division. There she continues to learn how to integrate traffic data with roadside air quality data and has also helped them design and conduct evaluation studies for alternative bicycle detection technologies.


Focus on Faculty: Dr. Catherine de Rivera

Dr. Cat de Rivera studies how anthropogenic changes in habitat connectivity –whether because of biological invasion, roads and the built environment, or sea level rise—affect animal populations and communities. She combines behavioral ecology techniques with modeling and experiments to address questions about invasions ecology, road ecology, and restoration ecology. She aims both to provide resource managers with findings to help them determine the ecologically best management options as well as to conduct basic research that helps promote our more theoretical understanding of the ecology of marine, estuarine, and terrestrial systems.

Non-native species, especially those shown to be invasive, threaten native species, ecosystem integrity, and local economies. They also serve as a natural experiment and can be used to help answer interesting ecological, evolutionary, and biogeographical questions. Therefore, research on non-native species can be conducted so it simultaneously answers important theoretical questions and important management and conservation ones. Much less is known about the ecology and effects of non-native marine species than terrestrial ones. Hence, Dr. de Rivera has been modeling the spread and impacts of non-native crabs and testing the effectiveness of management measures on their populations and populations of their prey. With colleagues, she is also developing research on the relative roles of dispersal, ecosystem properties, predation, and competition on the composition and structure of marine fouling communities and saltmarsh invertebrate communities, with a focus on invasion in these systems.

Roads can facilitate invasions as well but also often present the opposite problem of fragmenting habitat and reducing habitat connectivity. Roads can reduce connectivity when animals try to cross the road but are hit by vehicles and when they avoid roads so also cannot get across them. With students and colleagues, Dr. de Rivera is evaluating mitigation options to improve connectivity and reduce collisions with vehicles. Similarly, she has started research examining how vehicle speed affects the probability of animals successfully crossing roads. Problems of experimentally testing this applied question have left it unanswered, though speed reduction is used as a management strategy to reduce animal-vehicle collisions, including for bees and dragonflies. Informing work in her lab on an imperiled Oregon butterfly whose population viability is affected by roads, she will take advantage of the high density of alfalfa butterfly swarms across roads in central California to determine the shape of the relationship between butterfly mortality and vehicle speed.

Before coming to Portland State, Dr. de Rivera served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. For her postdoctoral research, she examined how predation by native crabs reduces establishment success and population size and sets the southern range limit of an invasive crab, the European green crab. She also examined latitudinal patterns of invasion in the fouling community along the west coast of North America.

Her Ph.D., from University of California, San Diego, examined mate searching in fiddler crabs, specifically how ecological factors affect which sex searches for a mate and the nature of the search behavior. She has plans to resume some research with fiddler crabs and would like to examine both honest cross-species signaling in these crabs as well as how the microhabitat characteristics of fiddler crab burrows affect female choice and nitrogen cycling.

Dr. de Rivera first discovered her passions for research and for teaching, as well as a deep respect for consensus-based decision making, when she earned her BA in Biology from Earlham College. After serving as a teaching assistant there, she moved on to teaching high school and later college at UC San Diego as well as Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Most recently she organized and, with a team of GK-12 Fellows and area K-12 science teachers, helped lead a workshop in Panama on inquiry-based science curricula. She looks forward to continued research and teaching on all these topics and is excited to have started playing Ultimate Frisbee again.

Focus on Alumni: Joshua Caplan, PhD (2009)

When Josh was at Portland State, his research focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying the invasion of a species complex that is particularly well adapted to ecological disturbance, especially in regions with dry summers. Yes, he studied blackberries, which are not only notorious invaders in the Pacific Northwest, but also in many other regions with similar climates. With Dr. Yeakley and other PSU faculty, Josh showed that morphological adaptions to summer drought facilitate physiological advantages in the invasive blackberries with respect to water and light use, allowing these species to sail through rain free periods in the summer. Josh and Alan published three peer-reviewed papers from this research; the most recent appeared in Oecologia in 2013.

During his time at Portland State, Josh was very involved in the Urban Ecosystem Research Consortium, helping to organize the annual symposia that continue today. He also took advantage of a certificate program in statistics, and gained solid training in data analysis. This led to him collaborating on several papers on environmental health, and into a job in environmental consulting. Josh ultimately chose to pursue an academic track, and took on a postdoctoral position at Rutgers University.

At Rutgers, Josh was able to pursue an interest in plant-soil interactions that had been sparked during his dissertation work; he worked with shrubs in disturbed Eastern forests, focusing on how root traits could facilitate invasive success or the decline of formerly abundant species, depending on adaptation to the modern nutrient regime. Josh has since been awarded the Bucher-Jackson Fellowship at Bryn Mawr College, where he teaches in addition to conducting research. The main project he is involved in focuses on the interacting effects of rising CO2 and nitrogen pollution on reed invasion in coastal marshes. The research takes place at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. Josh’s newest paper has just been published, with several others on the way.

Focus on Undergraduate Students: Vanessa Robertson-Rojas

When I began my minor in Environmental studies four years ago I would never have guessed where it would lead me. As a junior in Art Practices I had little understanding on the career opportunities and pathway that this program would unveil to me. However, after my first year in the minor program I became completely committed to getting a second major and pursuing a career in a completely new discipline. Initially I enjoyed courses that focused on specific ecologies and field methods, and soon sought to gain as much experience as I could with ecological study. I was encouraged to volunteer with local non-profits like BARK and the Mt. St. Helens Institute and soon found a special joy in wetland ecology.

Learning that I loved wetlands was very different from learning how to study them. The most valuable learning experiences came from “hands on” explorations of sampling, modeling, and photographing wetlands. Studying marsh ecology under Dr. Catherine de Rivera and Dr. Martin Lafrenz (of the geography department) through PSU’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program allowed me to learn about research project development and execution both in the field and in the lab. I also experience interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration that yields dynamic and complex research projects. Working in this capacity introduced me to Dr. de Rivera’s lab and graduates students who extended my education further through sampling trips, data collection methods, and valuable insight to my potential future as a researcher. Through PSU I was also able to travel to Puerto Rico and have an amazing experience exploring coastal marshes and rainforest jungles. Additionally, admission into the departmental honors program provided mentor support as well as select scholarship opportunities. Lastly, my interests in ecological modeling was met with thoughtful suggestions and eventually work with the Institute for National Resources to help model sagebrush’s shifting ecologies under climate change and human management. Overall, I feel that my time in the Environmental Studies Program offered unexpected avenues for learning, and empowerment to explore interests in the natural world. I never would have guessed I would have such an opportunity to develop my skills as a student of ecology through the Environmental Studies program. Learning that I loved wetlands was very different from learning how to study.


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Phone: 503-725-4982
Fax: 503-725-9040
Mailing Address:
Environmental Science & Mgmt
Portland State Univeristy
P.O. Box 751
Portland, OR 97207
Campus Location: SRTC Room 218

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In this Issue:

Letter from the Chair

Focus on Graduate Students: Christine Kendrick, PhD Candidate

Focus on Faculty: Catherine de Rivera

Focus on Alumni: Joshua Caplan, PhD (2009)

Focus on Undergraduate Students: Vanessa Robertson-Rojas


Meenakshi Rao, a Ph.D. student (adviser: Linda George) has been awarded a 2014 summer National Science Foundation EAPSI Fellowship. She will investigate urbanization and air quality in Shanghai, China.

Ariana Chiapella, a Ph.D. student (adviser: Angela Strecker) has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to study the effects of contaminants on alpine lake food webs.

Professor Rob Scheller, along with co-investigators, received a grant from the Joint Fire Science Program to manage fire and fuel treatments using landscape-scale simulations models.

Patrick Edwards, a Ph.D. student (adviser: Yangdong Pan) has been awarded a 2014 summer National Science Foundation EAPSI Fellowship. He will study the effects of sedimentation on stream insects in China.

Professor Catherine de Rivera, along with co-investigators, was awarded a grant from Metro to research and map biodiversity corridors in the greater Portland region.

Christine Kendrick, a Ph.D. student (adviser: Linda George) has been awarded a Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research grant on her research project entitled "Aerosols in the Urban Roadside Environment".

New publications from current and former ESM members: Professor Mark Sytsma, Melissa Lucash (research professor), Professor Robert Scheller, Alec Kretchun (MS), Professor Angela Strecker, Joshua Caplan (PhD), Professor Elise Granek, Matthew Duveneck (PhD), Chris Mongeon (MS), Professor Alan Yeakley.

Alumni News

The ESM Alumni committee organized a career panel for undergraduate and graduate students in environmental science fields on April 30, 2014. Ten panelists, ranging from local and federal government, to the private sector, to academia, discussed career options with around 80 ESM students.

More information about the ESM Alumni Association can be found here.

Upcoming Events

End of the Year Celebration & Awards Ceremony Friday, June 13, 2014,
1-3pm Smith Memorial Student Union 238

Commencement – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Sunday, June 15, 2014, 10am-12:30pm Moda Center Arena



Header Photo by Rachel Spaid, owner of Nature by Design Photography