In the past few years, I have spent a lot of time at borders. It’s been a time of transition, and a lot of traveling – I have lived on the east and west coasts of the US, in Kenya, in South Africa, in Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia, in Botswana, and in the UK, and visited Canada, Germany, France, Sweden, Austria, Slovakia, and Uganda. This week I even entered the Czech Republic for about half an hour.
This attraction to borders extends beyond my personal life-on-four-continents. I seem to be intrigued by interfaces: My research interests revolve around the complex social and ecological issues that occur where people interact with a ‘natural’ environment. For the purposes of this blog, this is the ecology/economics interface. This interaction can be direct or indirect, and includes things like recreation, hunting or fishing, planting crops, and raising livestock. The rapidly increasing human population has led to pressure at the interface between people and the rest of evolution…as a result, many species have become endangered or extinct, and many systems have been irreversibly changed.
Thus far, my research has focused on the impact of human actions on organisms that cross a border between wildlife and domestic animals (the wildlife/livestock interface), namely, parasites that infect multiple types of hosts. These include parasitic worms, ticks, and pathogens spread by ticks, as well as many bacteria and viruses.
My PhD involves a balance of fieldwork (in and around Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana) and mathematical modeling. This means I am lucky enough to be able to alternate time spent staring at a computer screen with time spent driving around the savanna looking for wildlife.
This leads to my last interface: applied/theoretical. I am using multi-species modelling methods to try to understand the dynamics of parasites in livestock at the border of a national park. I hope to use this perspective to develop realistic management recommendations that improve food security for the local communities and reduce human-wildlife conflict.
One thing all of these interfaces share is complexity. And that is what makes them so exciting!