When I was a new graduate student at Florida State University (FSU) starting an MS on ant ecology, a post-doc told me to go somewhere else to get my PhD. Why? I asked. Had I made a mistake coming to FSU? Was there something wrong with this department? No, he just thought it was a good idea to spread your educational experience across more than one university, because each has a different academic culture, and you learn something different from each. It was great advice.
The UW School of Fisheries in the 1990s had a very different culture from FSU. FSU emphasized natural history and ecological interactions among species and with their environment. UW emphasized population modeling, as one would expect for harvest management. Si Simenstad’s Wetlands Ecosystem Team (WET), where I worked, also emphasized the emerging discipline of landscape ecology. Working with ants allows you to work at a small scale, independently, and with minimum logistic complications; working on salmon ecology is almost entirely the opposite, which required a significant adjustment for me.
The cultures of FSU and UW have both had a lasting influence on me. My PhD dissertation was an example of blending cultures. I was interested in leveraging my entomological background in my new focus on fish ecology, and I was interested in interactions between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, so juvenile salmon predation on flies, aphids, and other insects in the Chehalis River tidal swamps were my initial subject. This evolved into an interest in how allochthonous insect prey and other organic detritus varied in abundance and export according to the size of a tidal channel. This led to a fascination with tidal channel geometry. I applied what I had learned about organismal allometry during my FSU studies, and the emerging paradigm of fractal geometry, to tidal channels. This fascination with channel geometry continues, with the consequence that I have published more papers in geomorphological than ecological journals.
I now work for the Skagit River System Cooperative, a tribal natural resource management consortium, where I do mostly applied research on tidal marsh ecology and geomorphology in support of estuarine habitat restoration to provide rearing habitat for juvenile salmon, especially threatened Chinook. Tidal marsh restoration is primarily a process of restoring physical form to a site to allow hydrodynamic processes to operate as unimpeded as possible. Geomorphology and hydrodynamics interact to provide habitat for flora and fauna, which in turn can serve as ecological engineers to affect geomorphology and hydrodynamics. I also serve on a five-person committee that evaluates federal habitat restoration in the Columbia River Estuary, where I sometimes cross paths with old WET friends, Laurie Weitkamp (MS, 1991; PhD, 2004; currently NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center) and Jessica Miller (MS, 1983; currently University of Oregon).
Grad school is more than an intellectual experience. The large, international, Latino community at the School of Fisheries in the 1990s also had a big influence on my life. I remain close friends with Diego Holmgren (PhD, 2001; currently Stillaguamish Tribe), Billy Ernst (PhD, 2002) and Carolina Parada (SAFS post-doc; both currently University of Concepcion, Chile), Juan Valero (MS 2002; PhD, 2002; currently independent fisheries scientist/consultant), Anna Parma (PhD, 1989; currently Centro Nacional Patagonico, Argentina), Jesus Jurado-Molina (PhD, 2001; currently Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico), Julian Burgos (PhD, 2008; currently Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, Iceland), and Eugenia Bogazzi (Research Scientist at SAFS; currently Environmental Coalition of South Seattle). It was through them that I met my Chilean wife, Ximena Grollmus. Thanks to them I speak as much Spanish at home as English, as do my two children. And from them I learned to say, “Chao, pesca’o!”