Dr. Barnes is assessing the damaging impact of runoff from resorts and other areas on reefs in West Maui.
have sometimes been called tree-huggers. But as Megan Barnes, post-doctoral
fellow in the department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management,
could tell you, it’s not enough to hug a tree. You have to analyze the physical
environment the tree grows in, assess the fauna and flora living in and around
it, calculate the economic and environmental impacts on it, and tabulate
countless other variables to figure out how best to save it. With a background
in theoretical and applied conservation science, Dr. Barnes applies this
rigorous approach to gathering and evaluating data to drive positive change.
Dr. Barnes, who
works in ecological economist Dr. Kirsten Oleson’s lab at CTAHR, has expertise
in tropical and behavioral ecology, marine and terrestrial ecosystems,
protected areas management, and conservation planning. All are instrumental to
the project she’s now working on, assessing the health of and threats to reef
systems in West Maui that are impacted by fertilizer and other types of
Dr. Megan Barnes is a decision scientist who likes to "get her boots dirty" with fieldwork.
Also an expert in
global vertebrate fauna, Dr. Barnes is the lead author on an international
study of wildlife trends in protected areas, the largest investigation to
date, recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The study, which
Dr. Barnes did while at the University of Queensland, examined 1902 populations
of 556 species of birds and mammals in 447 protected areas in 72 countries
between 1970 and 2010.
The good news is
that, for the most part, protected areas are successfully safeguarding wildlife
populations within their boundaries. The curious news is that the
socio-economic conditions of the countries in which the protected areas are
located turn out to be far more critical to the success of parks than factors
previously thought to be influential, such as size, design, or type of
protected area. Both of these findings suggest the continued need for adequate
support of these parks. “National parks are the cornerstone of most country’s
conservation plans, so it’s essential they work as well as possible,” Dr.
Barnes explains. There are still a number of protected areas where wildlife
populations are declining, especially in developing nations, and these urgently
need support so they can successfully preserve the biodiversity that is so
crucially necessary to the future of the planet.
All of Dr.
Barnes’s work underscores an important point: conservation requires careful
study as well as a strong commitment to making a difference. She provides both.