Graduate Student Presents Research at AEES

The Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering is among one of the hosts of the 19th annual American Ecological Engineering Society Meeting (AEES) will be held in Asheville, North Carolina. This year’s meeting theme is “Enabling Future Generations to Solve Our Planet’s Grand Challenges”.

The American Ecological Engineering Society’s mission is to promote the development of sustainable ecosystems that integrate human society with its natural environment for the benefit of both by fostering education and outreach, extending professional development and associations, raising public awareness, and encouraging original research.

Master’s student Sara Donatich will make the trip to Asheville to present her research at AEES on her work with her advisor, Department of Biological Engineering and North Carolina Sea Grant Water Protection and Restoration Specialist Dr. Barbara Doll.

What are you presenting on at AEES?
I am presenting my thesis work, which focuses on evaluating the ecological function of restored streams using the Stream Quantification Tool (SQT), a rapid assessment methodology and excel-based tool that quantifies function in streams in order to characterize overall stream integrity.

Can you describe your research?
My research is guided by the following overarching question: does the SQT developed for North Carolina accurately detect and quantify ecological function? To answer this question, I’ve collected ecological function data with a team of people at a total of 34 streams across the Piedmont ecoregion of North Carolina in order to test the SQT. The data includes information on biology, water quality, geomorphology, hydraulics, and hydrology functions. Using multivariate statistics, I will make recommendations to improve the SQT’s ability to quantify ecological function and predict outcomes from target restoration actions.

What is the impact of this work?

The SQT was developed as a means to meet the 2008 federal mitigation rule update, which requires stream restoration projects to be evaluated based on ecological function, or the physical, chemical, and biological processes within a stream ecosystem. Currently, assessment approaches rely on physical measurements alone to evaluate project success. The North Carolina Department of Mitigation Services (NC DMS) is considering adopting the SQT into regulation, which would inform pre-restoration and post-restoration monitoring programs for one of the most robust stream mitigation programs in the US.

Why is it important to share this research?
In my case, I am sharing on-going research. I find this very valuable because I can incorporate new ideas and feedback into my research.

What do you hope to get out of the meeting?
I am excited to meet others doing similar work, get inspired by talks, and network!