Dr. Alyson McKnight
Dr. Aly McKnight
Ecology and Marine Birds
Ecology through the lens of marine birds
The overarching theme of my research is to explore how environmental and community interactions combine to influence individuals, and how these individual experiences scale up to drive wildlife population dynamics. Human activities are altering ecosystems across the globe through resource depletion, habitat degradation, climate change, and other avenues. These changes impose new physiological constraints on organisms, shift species distributions, and disrupt predator-prey and other community-level interactions. In response, natural resource conservation and management strategies are shifting from a species-specific focus to ecosystem-based approaches, yet the relationships among organisms and between organisms and their physical environment are not always well understood. This limitation hinders our interpretive, predictive, and mitigative powers with respect to large-scale environmental disturbances such as climate change. The better we understand how multiple stressors combine to affect populations and communities, the better equipped we will be to face environmental challenges head on.
Gulf of Maine Coastal Ecosystem Survey
I have just wrapped up a three-year integrated, interdisciplinary investigation of the coastal zone of the Gulf of Maine (project blog; final report). Our multi-agency science team simultaneously sampled ocean physics, plankton, fish, birds, and mammals to develop a working model of biological hotspots that will aid in marine spatial planning in this region. Unity student Samantha McGarrigle ’17 assisted with sampling activities in 2016.
Can foraging shorebirds provide us with a cheap index of marine community health? A pioneering effort to link bird activity and meiofaunal community structure
Dr. Emma Perry and I will be taking a student to Curaçao (Lesser Antilles, Dutch Caribbean) for a week in summer 2018 to investigate the feasibility of using bird metrics as proxies for meiofaunal community structure in a tropical system. This concept derives from similar efforts to use marine birds as indicators of pelagic ecosystem health, a model that has been well studied and implemented in a number of regions. If successful, this work will provide guidance and serve as a proof-of-concept to launch a larger exploration involving undergraduate researchers and citizen scientists across multiple regions.
Floating seaweed mats: Have we underestimated their importance in temperate pelagic systems?
In collaboration with Dr. Emma Perry, Dr. Aimee Phillippi, and Dr. Susan Colvin, I am working to develop a research program investigating the ecological role of floating rockweed mats in the pelagic zone of the Gulf of Maine. These seaweed mats may provide critical foraging and refuge habitat for pelagic fish and birds, but we have little documentation of their ecological role in marine systems outside the tropics. Further, we know little of how their generation and longevity will be affected by expanding seaweed fisheries and changing climate. If successful, this program will provide baseline data and monitoring protocols to inform rockweed fishery management throughout the North Atlantic.