Intro

I am a plant and forest ecosystem ecologist with deep technical roots. In the early 00's I shifted my focus from electrical and software engineering to applying my skills to address contemporary ecological challenges. I had worked for Lockheed Martin and others on designing and building prototype high speed satellite communications hardware. As software took off in the San Francisco Bay Area in the '90s, I moved a few miles north to participate in the exciting, fast-moving dot-com industry by building backend tools for the emerging companies there.

Conservation has always been a core value of mine, and after seeing the complex challenges that real conservation faces during a period spent as a volunteer in Kalimantan, the dire situations our ecosystems face became clear. It also occurred to me that there probably weren't many engineers contributing their skills to tropical conservation efforts. The rest is history; almost two decades later finds me applying my skills to better understand tropical forest dynamics, and how they may respond to contemporary environmental change. You can check out more of what I've been up to here.

Work

I am a post-doctoral researcher in Oxford's Ecosystem Lab, led by Yadvinder Malhi, within the Environmental Change Institute. Check out my CV here.

[some ongoing projects]

Understanding tropical tree architecture and function

Pioneering work by the likes of Francis Hallé in the 1970s have advanced our understanding of the range of variation of tree architecture and the phenotypic development patterns that underlies that variation. Nonetheless, the science on tree architecture has been largely starved of data, and hence has struggled to advance. New developments in terrestrial laser scanning and processing and modeling algorithms are, all of a sudden, allowing us to expand our scales of understanding by orders of magnitude. I am working with colleagues from UCL, Sonoma State, Arizona, and elsewhere to scan and model hundreds, maybe thousands, of trees from around the tropics. These 3D scans of trees capture twigs as small as millimeters, and trunks as big as trucks. Here is a small theoretical model of one of the branches we measured in Malaysia. By advancing our understanding of tree architecture, we hope to better understand why trees have the shapes they do, how they pack themselves into forests, and what implications these architectural rules may have for how trees, and forests, respond to climate change.

Leveraging Gaming to Construct Virtual Forest Laboratories

In collaboration with Improbable.io, Oxford University, and UCL, I am leveraging Improbable’s technology to build functional 3D models of real forests. We scan the forests with terrestrial LiDAR instruments, extract individual trees from the resulting point clouds, and fit cylindrical models to them, resulting in topological models. We are applying hydraulic, photosynthetic, respiration, and mechanical models to these structures to investigate the role of structural complexity in resilience to climate change. This framework will also serve as a virtual laboratory for other researchers and as a teaching tool for educators.

Seeing Components of the Forest Carbon Cycle from Above

In collaboration with the Carnegie Airborne Observatory at Stanford University and Oxford University’s Global Ecosystem Monitoring network, I am using airborne hyperspectral imaging to detect the underlying components of the forest carbon cycle that result in the net carbon source vs. sink function of forests. This work will lead to scaling up understanding of forest function across entire landscapes, and will provide the foundation for the type of process-based models necessary to predict forest carbon cycle responses to future climate change.

About

I am a post-doctoral plant and forest ecosystem ecologist in Oxford's Ecosystem Lab with interest and experience merging social, anthropological, and political perspectives of ecosystems and conservation. I employ novel field techniques coupled with modern statistical methods to address long-standing questions about nature at a range of scales; my experience in electrical and software engineering enables me to push the frontier where technology meets ecology. My research focuses on two principal themes: (1) ecosystem responses to management, disturbance, and climate change, and (2) the roles of an ecosystem’s structure in its function, assembly, and response to disturbance and stress. I focus on forest ecosystems in the tropics but my interests are global. As a post-doc in ECI’s Ecosystems Lab, I am currently conducting research relating the scaling of tree and forest canopy traits to ecosystem structure and carbon cycling.

My doctoral work, in the Putz lab at the University of Florida, investigated the role of important contemporary environmental change (logging, drought, and fire) in tropical forest dynamics, and their implications for future forests. My current work on traits, structure, and function focuses on testing the metabolic scaling of tree structure, using airborne hyperspectral imaging spectroscopy to scale forest carbon cycles from trees to landscapes, and investigating the role of vertical light profiles on forest function with a novel vertical light profile sensor. Further initiatives include 3D modelling of forest and function to better predict response to a changing climate, using remote sensing to identify spectral signatures of individual tree crowns, advancing our understanding of the role of tree respiration in the carbon cycle using high-resolution LiDAR, and investigating the evolution of tropical tree crown shapes.

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