NEW: Researcher of the Month – June 2020: Auriel Fournier

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Credit: Justin Lehman

In a new column, Tim Gillett meets a winner of the BioOne Ambassador Award for early-career researchers who excel at communicating their work to the public

What is your research? What’s its purpose and what timescales are involved?
My work focuses on emergent freshwater wetlands (wetlands without trees) and how we can manage them better, and how different kinds of creatures (mostly birds) use them. Whenever possible this is done to address specific questions to better inform management decision making. Often the timescales are a few years in length, but more and more we need to be looking at decadal scales for understanding wetland restoration and its impacts.

What led you to get involved in this research?
I was very, very fortunate to grow up in NW Ohio, with parents who really supported my love of birds, and who had the time and ability to drop me off many mornings far to early to go bird banding with Black Swamp Bird Observatory. I was also very fortunate to grow up just down the county road from a bird bander and retired school teacher (Tom Kashmer) who would pick me up many mornings to go trap and band rails at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, where I fell in love with wetland bird and wetlands themselves. I’ve always been very interested in applied questions and how research can inform decision making, and so I sought out a doctoral program that offered training in applied ecology and a project on wetland birds.

Is it individual or team research? How are the teams made up, and where are they based?
Very much team research. I worked closely with scientists and land managers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation to take the results from my first two years of data collection, and develop land management relevant questions together. Which is how we settled on a question about differences in the timing of water management in wetlands, as its an area where the answer would better inform how we manage public wetlands for a wider suite of wetland bird species. It also involved the participation of several technicians who worked for me each fall to assist in collecting the data, as well as a statistician who assisted with the experimental design.

How is it being funded, and does/did the funder require open access publishing?
My dissertation work was funded through a combination of a fellowship through the University of Arkansas, and grant funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Webless Program, and the Missouri Department of Conservation. None of those funders require open access publishing, though I did prepare two-page summaries for the managers/funding agencies describing the results as they relate to management decisions, as many state and federal natural resource agencies do not have access to peer reviewed publications.

Is the research itself, and associated data, open as well?
Whenever possible, I archive the data for a paper in the supplementary material along with the code; not all journals in my field have adopted this practice, so not all the data is openly available.

Where is it likely to be published (or has it already been pubished)? is this the sort of research that can be placed into a preprint repository or does it have to wait until the work is finished, peer reviewed, etc?
The paper that resulted in me receiving the BioOne Ambassador award was published in the journal Waterbirds. My doctoral advisor, David Krementz, was a professor at the University of Arkansas, and also a federal employee with the U.S. Geological Survey, via the USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit system (he is now retired). USGS has an internal review process that all publications must go through, which makes the use of preprints challenging, since the paper would have to go through USGS review before becoming a preprint, and then go through it again before the final version is eventually published in a journal. So while I like the idea of preprints, I very infrequently choose to use them when publishing with USGS authors because it adds a lot more back and forth to the publication process.

What was the thinking behind you putting together a ‘plain language’ summary (replicated below)?
I spend a lot of time communicating my science to folks who don’t have a statistical background, but who need to understand the results, and how to interpret them, so that they can make better management decisions about wetlands. So I tried to think of them as my audience as I prepared the plain language summary, to help me avoid getting caught up in the models (which I personally really find interesting) and instead explain the results so that hopefully many folks could understand them.

What do you hope the research will lead to in the long term?
My career goals are two fold as an applied wetland ecologist. I want to do work that helps better manage and conserve our wetlands, while also doing work that improves the field of ecology for the people who are within it. I want to make entrance into ecology career paths, as well as persistence in the field easier and equitable for all, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality or disability. We’ve got a long way to go on both fronts, but I love a good challenge.

Do you know anyone who deserves to be our Researcher of the Month? Let us know!

Auriel’s plain-language summary

We have lost many of our wetlands globally, despite their importance for cleaning water, absorbing heavy rains, and providing habitat for plants and wildlife.

Many remaining North American wetlands have been cut off from the natural patterns of flooding and drying by the leveeing of major rivers. These wetlands require active management to maintain healthy wetlands. Part of active management is the intentional flooding and drying to mimic natural floodplain patterns.

The timing of drying and flooding is especially important to make sure habitat is wet when the animals need it, since habitat available after a migratory bird has left, doesn’t help that species. Wetland managers often try to balance many needs, such as providing habitat for migratory birds and opportunities for humans to hunt or birdwatch. Meeting all these needs can be challenging, especially without complete information about the outcomes of different choices.

Conversations with wetland managers in Missouri, USA, led us to answer the question ‘How do two groups of wetland birds who migrate at different times respond when we flood wetlands earlier in autumn migration?’ We found that rails, which migrate earlier, use earlier flooded wetlands earlier more than wetlands that are dry during their migration. Ducks, which migrate later, had no difference between earlier or later flooded wetlands, as both had water during their later migration. Being able to flood earlier to provide habitat for rails without a hurting ducks is a win-win for the birds, and the people who enjoy and wish to conserve them.