Coastal wetland restoration, climate change, and your next Instagram favorite

When was the last time you took a walk through a local park and wondered about the soil beneath your shoes and the quality of life for the plants growing nearby?

For Ph.D. candidate Sarah Kidd, these are more than just areas of curiosity. Her research is dedicated to investigating the effects of tidal wetland restoration, invasive plant species, climate change, and sea levels on estuary habitats. Kidd is an environmental science and management doctoral candidate at Portland State, and one of a select few students who are part of the National Science Foundation IGERT Ph.D. program and the National Science Foundation GK12 Ph.D. program.

Kidd’s research is primarily focused in Youngs Bay, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River. She has spent many hours there surveying and tracking the restoration of wetland plant communities, which are critical to the recovery of endangered Columbia River salmon and the productivity of local fisheries.

With funding from the National Park Service, Kidd evaluated the potential impacts of sea level rise and climate change on these wetland habitats. She developed a novel approach to simulating coastal wetland tidal flooding and salinity conditions in a research greenhouse at Portland State University. Results suggest that even small increases in tidal flooding and salinity will have a significant impact on the native and non-native tidal wetland plant community compositions in Youngs Bay.

Early on in her research Kidd realized there was a lot more to the story of coastal wetland restoration than tracking changes in plants and mud, and through the IGERT program Kidd had the unique opportunity to integrate an interdisciplinary lens into her research. Working alongside other IGERT students, she has been able to expand the breadth of her research to also explore the complex social, political, and economic implications of restoration and development in these dynamic coastal areas.

“As an ecologist, I had had limited experiences working with social scientists before entering the IGERT program, and I now realize how critical collaborating and engaging with social scientists is for conducting research that informs sustainable environmental planning and development,” said Kidd.

The IGERT program has yielded unique collaborations for its students, where new lessons about community partnerships and scientific methods are the norm and hold value beyond the projects they create during their involvement.

“Without IGERT’s support and the guidance of my advisor Alan Yeakley, I would not have had the opportunity to experience and develop the skills needed to approach these critical aspects of conducting meaningful and productive interdisciplinary scholarship.”

Kidd’s interdisciplinary collaborations include taking a closer look at Youngs Bay’s historical and economic transformations from early agricultural development to current restoration efforts, and working with a group of 25 international interdisciplinary graduate students and researchers to develop a planning tool for sustainable development in river deltas around the world.

After she completes her dissertation and becomes one of the first to graduate from the IGERT program in spring 2017, Sarah aims to secure a job where she can continue to conduct research directed at improving the restoration, conservation, and management of wetland ecosystems. In the meantime, she continues to blog as Science Kidd and post facts and photos on Instagram about local plants and fungi as a way to engage the public about urban ecology.

Take a look in the greenhouse and follow Sarah’s research journey in this video.