Susan joined the Center for Natural Lands Management in August 2015 as a Rare Species Ecologist. Her work at CNLM will focus on the recovery of native butterflies and pollinators throughout the South Sound Prairies. Susan’s work will include helping with the recovery and reintroduction of endangered Taylor’s checkerspots with the goal of defining habitat requirements and creating conditions necessary for re-establishment and persistence of multiple populations of this special butterfly. She earned her BA in Ecology from Hampshire College, her MEd in Secondary Science Education at the University of Massachusetts, and her doctorate in Ecology from the University of Washington.
Susan has been involved in ecological research in prairie-oak ecosystems since 2008, when she first encountered the spring blues and yellows of Camas and native buttercups as a newcomer to the Northwest. Susan's interests in ecology and restoration are centered on the importance of species interactions---the interactions between organisms, which affect the structure of ecological communities.
Susan’s recent research focuses on a key ecological interaction: pollination. Pollination is necessary for reproduction of more than 85% of Earth’s plant species, and plant communities are intimately interlinked with their pollinators. As a pollination ecologist, Susan explored how two globally important agents of change, invasion of exotic plants and climate change, are influencing our South Sound Prairies. First, she investigated how exotic plant species influence the way pollinators respond to native plants. She found that having high densities of exotic flowers surrounding a native plant can increase or decrease how often pollinators visit native flowers (depending on the native plant species and conditions of the site) affecting how much seed a native plant can produce. Second, she explored how exotic plants blooming earlier, due to climate change, altered the interactions between pollinators and native plants (which are not expected to shift their blooming dates earlier to the same degree as exotic species). She found that when exotic plants bloom earlier, the amount of seed produced by native plants increases or decreases dramatically depending on the native plant species.
In addition to her prairie-based work, Susan founded and currently directs Seattle’s Urban Pollination Project (UPP), a citizen science initiative in Seattle. UPP collaborates with gardeners in urban community gardens, and asks whether urban land use around the gardens affects bumble bee diversity, and ultimately, the amount of food that can be produced in those gardens. UPP’s goal is to determine whether specific areas of Seattle could benefit from restoring bumblebee-nesting habitat, leading to improved local food production through increased pollination.
Susan’s incorporation to the CNLM-South Sound Prairies Program comes at a critical time. The populations of many bees and butterflies have declined over the last 30 years so much so that the White House recently released the Pollinator Research Action Plan and developed the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators to support the recovery of many pollinator species. While CNLM has been working collaboratively with federal and state agencies for more than 10 years creating and restoring habitat for native pollinators, we are very excited to have Susan on board so we can continue to support native pollinators and ensure that our prairies remain healthy and with beautiful native blooms during each spring.