The Committee on Evolutionary Biology (CEB) is a unique interdepartmental and inter-institutional graduate student training program dedicated to the study of Evolutionary Biology. Faculty and students in the program are engaged in interdisciplinary studies at time scales that range from single generations to the entire history of life and at organizational scales from the molecular to the global.
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.Read More about Kristen Voorhies or visit the Spotlight Archive.