Meet DEB: Kari Segraves, Matthew Fujita, and Kirsten Schwarz

Name and Cluster: Kari Segraves, Population and Community Ecology

Education: Earned a B.S. and M.S. from Washington State University and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University

Home Institution: Syracuse University

Tell us about your research: I am an evolutionary ecologist, and my interests focus on understanding how interactions between different species affect their ecology and evolution. In my lab group, we have been studying mutually beneficial interactions between species because they are critical to the formation and structure of ecological communities. Species that participate in mutualisms trade resources or services in exchange for commodities that are difficult for them to obtain on their own. We have been using both lab studies of synthetic mutualisms and field experiments in natural systems to understand how mutualisms persist and evolve in species rich communities. This work is revealing that the community context of a mutualism is important and it can affect how these interactions persist ecologically, particularly in the presence of species that take advantage of the rewards offered by mutualists. Our other major area of research examines how whole genome duplication in plants impacts their interactions with herbivorous insects, pollinators, and belowground mutualisms with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This research is showing that whole genome duplication can affect aspects of a plant’s physiology and ecology that alters its interactions with other species, suggesting that this common mode of plant species may have far reaching effects in communities.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? NSF has made a huge difference in my career by supporting me as a graduate student, postdoc, and professor. I certainly would not be where I am today without having received this support. Serving at NSF is my chance to give back to this wonderful community and (hopefully!) make a positive, lasting impact on the careers of up and coming scientists.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I am excited to work at NSF because I will get to learn about novel research at the forefront of science. I have also been looking forward to working with the awesome team at NSF to help PIs do their best possible work and to foster inclusion and diversity in STEM.

Name and Cluster: Matthew Fujita, Systematics and Biodiversity Science

Education: Earned a B.S. from University of California, Davis and a PhD from University of California, Berkeley

Home Institution: The University of Texas at Arlington

Tell us about your research: My lab studies the evolutionary genomics and systematics of reptiles and amphibians. Advances in genome sequencing technologies and analytical approaches are providing ever-increasing power to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes that shape the distributions of individual populations within species but also the branching processes between species. By leveraging these tools, we investigate the phylogeography and speciation dynamics in a multiple of lizards, snakes, frogs, and toads. We also have NSF-funded projects to look at the evolution of sensory systems in frogs and lizards – an exciting new trajectory for the lab! We can also leverage the incredible organismal diversity of reptiles and amphibians to help us understand genome evolution in ways that are intractable with mammal and bird systems. For instance, my lab is very interested in the genomic consequences of parthenogenesis, which is a mode of unisexual reproduction that naturally exists in squamates, but not in mammals and rarely in birds. Herps are just too cool!

Why do you want to serve with NSF? I have been on several panels, and every single one (even when virtual) was an extremely enjoyable and educational experience. I was able to see the great research happening across the country but also hear all the different perspectives on so many aspects of science from our panel discussions. Panel service also showed me the deep commitment that DEB has in supporting researchers. As a Program Officer, I want to dive deeper into the process of facilitating research across the country and to learn the policies that make that happen. Also, DEB is such a welcoming place!

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF?I am looking forward to working with my colleagues in DEB and absorbing their wisdom! I am also looking forward to learning about all of the amazing research that is happening around the country.

Name and Cluster: Kirsten Schwarz, Ecosystem Science Cluster

Education: Earned a B.A. from College of the Atlantic and a PhD from Rutgers University

Home Institution:UCLA

Tell us about your research:I’m an interdisciplinary researcher that studies social-ecological systems in cities. My research aims to understand how the ways in which we build and shape cities impacts environment, health, and justice. I study environmental hazards (like lead-contaminated soils) and amenities (like trees), what drives their distribution, and how their distribution interfaces with issues of equity and justice. Community engagement and science communication are important aspects of my work that have influenced my current research on understanding how designed solutions can maximize desired ecosystem services (like stormwater retention and extreme heat mitigation).

Why do you want to serve with NSF? Of course, I’m curious to learn more about how the NSF works, but my main motivation for serving was to dig a little deeper into how the co-production of science is, and can be, funded. In my experience, the ways in which we fund and support co-produced research can have a major impact on its success. I’m intrigued by NSF’s ongoing work on co-production and am excited to learn more about how we can support pathways towards equitably funded co-produced research. Finally, the NSF has supported my career at critical times of transition, and I look forward to paying it forward.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I’m looking forward to connecting scientists doing great ecosystem science to the resources they need. I’m especially looking forward to connecting with new PIs and sharing the programs that can support and expand their work and career. Most of all, I’m looking forward to learning from new colleagues and playing a small part in supporting great science with the broadest possible impacts.   

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