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Keith Fritschie ’11 Wins National Science Foundation Fellowship

Keith Fritschie ’11, who graduated cum laude with a degree in Environmental Science, has received a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship. He is earning a master’s degree from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, where he works in the Freshwater Ecology and Conservation Lab. His research focuses on how shifts in fish communities are changing the way nutrients cycle through streams.

“Scientists often attribute aquatic nutrient loading to anthropogenic inputs, and rightly so (think agricultural runoff in the Mississippi and the subsequent dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico). However, a growing body of research demonstrates that fish themselves also mediate stream nutrient fluxes and subsequent ecosystem processes (i.e. primary production),” Fritschie said. “Given that freshwater fish communities are simultaneously among the most threatened and most invaded biological systems in the world, understanding how and predicting when fish influence nutrient cycles is a timely task.”

Fritschie’s research focuses on the desert Southwest, particularly the Verde River system of central Arizona, where he combines experiments with endangered species in a hatchery, fish community manipulations in the field, and species distribution modeling in the lab.

His interest in biodiversity-ecosystem function research began at CC, where he learned basic ecological theory from Boyce Drummond and Jim Ebersole, recognized the role of society in nature in Walt Hecox’s Ecological Economics and Phil Kannan’s Environmental Policy and Management courses, and synthesized the human and ecological dimensions of the environment in courses such as Water and Human Impacts on Biogeochemical Cycles taught by his thesis advisors Miro Kummel and Howard Drossman.

Fritschie said CC’s schedule makes it an ideal place to learn how to design, execute, and report the results of field research. “Talking with grad students originally from big universities, it seems pretty difficult to get the type of exposure to research that all science students enjoy at CC, both because their multi-class schedules don’t allow long-term fieldwork and they have so many undergrads competing for limited field/lab technician positions. I had some great research experiences at CC: Trying to hack through two feet of ice to sample benthic invertebrates on Lost Creek in Jim Ebersole’s 5th Block ecology course; riding bikes in waders from the Garden of the Gods Water Waste treatment plant back to CC to collect nutrient spiraling and algae samples; trying to remove cactus clones from my body while comparing the reproductive strategies of teddy bear cholla in Organ Pipe National Monument.  They may have been pretty rudimentary ecological ideas, but were invaluable for teaching me the research process and how to adapt to unexpected circumstances in the field and in the lab.”

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