The Lynch Lab is focused on applying quantitative methods to ecological questions in ecology and conservation biology. Although we work in a number of different areas related to quantitative ecology, central to my lab’s current research activities are our efforts to understand the dynamics of ecological change on the Antarctic Peninsula and their genesis in environmental and anthropogenic drivers. The Lynch Lab leads the quantitative analysis of data coming from a long-term regional biological monitoring program called the Antarctic Site Inventory (ASI). The ASI is the only research program doing regular vessel-based biological census work on the Antarctic Peninsula. In addition to serving as a platform for basic research in Antarctic ecology, the ASI’s mission is to provide objective, data-driven scientific analysis to an international community of policy-makers working to ensure the continued conservation of Antarctica’s fragile ecosystem. Although all flora and fauna are surveyed, mapped, and monitored, our research has traditionally focused on three colonially-nesting penguin species (Adélies, gentoos, and chinstraps) amenable to regular census and, as important marine mesopredators, considered ‘canaries in the coal mine’ for ecological change.
One aspect of our work currently in development is the optimization of biological monitoring via the integration of remote sensing and a combination of targeted and opportunistic field data. Facilitated by the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota, we are using high-resolution commercial satellite imagery to catalog all penguin colonies (detected via guano deposits) in Antarctica, some of which may be currently unknown and thus not included in current krill consumption estimates. New colonies discovered by this remote sensing survey will be ground-truthed over future field seasons as logistics permit. This integration of statistics, imagery analysis, and field work is a genuinely unique synthetic approach to regional-scale monitoring which will significantly advance our understanding of penguin population abundance in this region and will serve as a prototype for similar integrated monitoring programs in other remote locations around the world. With support from NASA, we have created an online application for penguin population data called the Mapping Application for Penguin Populations and Projected Dynamics (MAPPPD), which can be found at penguinmap.com.
All of our research efforts address real-world ecological or conservation problems through the development of mathematical models and statistical analyses custom-designed, in many cases, to overcome challenges posed by complex spatiotemporal ecological datasets. Solving real-world environmental challenges often requires novel, interdisciplinary approaches that defy traditional academic boundaries and fall, at various times, into ecology, geography, applied mathematics, or earth systems science.