Research program

We are a group of scientists addressing research questions in conservation biogeography using earth observation systems. 

Our lines of research seek conceptual and methodological contributions in the way ecosystem processes are mapped, studied and monitored. 

One of our lines of research deal with the challenging aspects of effective long-term monitoring of protected tropical forest reserves. Protected areas, once isolated from highly populated areas and distant from threats, are now embedded in social-ecological land systems characterized by patches of preserved or managed natural ecosystems in a ‘matrix’ of urban, agriculture and livestock ranching that has expanded rapidly, increasing land conflicts between stakeholders and degradation outside and inside the protected area system. We understand that effective monitoring in and around protected areas is needed for building successful conservation programs.

By using earth observation systems we try to answer questions such as: Are there distinctive patterns in sub-annual and inter-annual dynamics of forest clearing? How are these related to climate, cultural practices, land use policies, fluctuating economic conditions and/or management? How these dynamics of land use change affect habitat connectivity? and, How can we use such information to improve management of tropical forest reserve networks?.

Our work is usually local and/or regional. We are currently engaged in projects with collaborators in Mexico, Central America and northern tropical Andes.

In addition, we manage the 'parktrends' (in construction) platform as a science communication tool for some of these locally-engaged projects. 

 

More recently, another line of research has caught our attention. Automated mapping of grassland and prairie ecosystems in Southwest USA is methodologically challenging. I am interested in exploring innovative ways to combine LiDAR, object-oriented and/or machine-learning image classification approaches for mapping structure and composition of these ecosystems at regional scales. 

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Interesting research questions from faculty across TTU campus and abroad have led to participation in exciting projects in this area. Projects were I am or have been actively involved as a co-PI in the last 5 years are:

  • Texas Comptroller of Public Account.  Year:  2018-2021. Title: Landscape Assessment of West and South Texas Grasslands to Inform Conservation of Two Native Reptile Species of Concern in Texas; with Dr. Samantha Kahl; Dr. Gad Perry; Dr. Robert Cox and Dr. Nancy McIntyre.

  • Texas Comptroller of Public Account.  Year:  2018-2019.  Title: Efficacy of remote sensing technologies to detect burrows of Dipodomys elator and ultimately estimate abundance across its geographic distribution in Texas with Dr. Richard Stevens and MSc. John Stuhler.

  • Pheasants Forever Inc. Year: 2015-2019. Mapping historical vegetation composition of the Sand Shinnery Oak Prairie of West Texas and southeast New Mexico. With Dr. Blake Grisham, Dr. Clint Boal and Dr. David Haukos.​

  • Department of the Army (DOA). Year: 2015-2016. Title: Management of Wetlands / Floodplain: Coyote Springs Salt Cedar  Removal and Restoration  for  Natural Resources, Kirtland Air  Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Dr. Robert Cox and Dr. Jyotsna Sharma.

Finally, we are building up our capabilities to carry out a more experimental line of research in the use of geospatial technologies for monitoring spatial trends in ecological processes. Patch and landscape level dynamics of tree fall gaps, selective logging, edge effects, ecological succession and flowering/fruiting phenology are complex and poorly understood. In addition, we know very little about how vegetation structure and vegetation dynamics affect animal movement and foraging habits (and vice-versa) at these scales. As earth observation technologies move into real-time continuous observations, I am curious about what data processing techniques and considerations should we have for tracking these ecosystem processes and interactions. 

As a starting point, we have been testing different tracking technologies in greenhouse settings using hyperspectral sensors with real-time visualization capabilities for observing herbivory patterns in cotton plants. 

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