CEB Committe on Evolutionary Biology

Spotlight : Kristen Voorhies

Kristen Voorhies

Kristen identifying and sorting samples from the seafloor off of Los Angeles onboard the R/V Melville

Ever since I noticed the declining crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay as a young girl, I have been interested in how marine communities change and respond to perturbations. Fast-forward through my undergraduate and post-baccalaureate research and my questions continued to focus on using bio-indicators, like resilient fish populations or growth patterns in clams, to get realistic estimates of ecosystem health and function. Currently, my dissertation work shifts this focus to developing appropriate historical baselines against which to evaluate marine community changes and perturbations. My research, now mainly off of the Oregon coast, uses an integrative approach to understand how communities may vary over time both under natural conditions and in response to human related stressors. I use a combination of paleontological and ecological tools to interpret the historical patterns of marine communities preserved in dead seashells that accumulate on the sea floor (also known as death assemblages). In comparison with modern living communities, death assemblages can shed light on which species have been living in a given area for long periods of time, which species are new residents, and the relative dominance or rarity of historical species populations to modern species populations. Using death assemblages to collect historical information is extremely valuable for conservation goals as coastal areas often lack observations about what communities were like before the most recent years or even decades. My main focus of developing historical baselines is to help modern environmental monitoring efforts that are tasked with identifying the current health of complex marine soft-bottom ecosystems. My desire is to continue to develop links between death assemblages and modern assemblages to test macroecological patterns that may be present in the historical information preserved by dead seashells over local to regional scales and over species ranges.

Pursuing my PhD in the CEB program has allowed me to develop as an independent thinker, working alongside my advisors as colleagues and collaborators rather than just an advisee. This experience has been highly intense and highly rewarding from the very beginning. I look forward to continuing to actively contributing to the various scientific communities in community ecology, conservation paleobiology, historical ecology, and evolutionary biology that I have come to engage in so fiercely as a student in CEB.