Faculty Research Interests

TU faculty affiliated with the ENVS program represent a diverse array of fascinating and exciting research. Below are some of the ENVS faculty and a brief description of their research.

Dr. Vanessa Beauchamp

Professor of Biology

Science Complex, 3101B

410 704-2286

 

Dr. Beauchamp’s research program goals are to test and refine ecological models of succession, identify environmental thresholds involved in plant community change, and elucidate the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in plant community dynamics. A large part of my research program also involves practical applications related to management, conservation and restoration of plant communities.

Dr. Harald Beck
Professor of Biological Sciences
Science Complex, 3101D
410-704-3125

Dr. Beck’s current research focuses on understanding how disturbances, either natural or anthropogenic affect the population dynamics and species richness of mammals and plants in the Amazon. In particular, he is interested in the dramatic impact of peccaries (a pig-like creature) on forest ecology. Because of habitat destruction and hunting (anthropogenic disturbances), the species has been driven to local extinction and a new generation of trees is maturing without the massive seed predation and dispersal (mammal-plant interactions), soil disturbance, or physical damage wrought by the peccaries. To test some of these hypotheses, he has set up several long-term experiments in Cocha Cashu and Los Amigos, two sites within the Peruvian Amazon. In addition, in collaboration with colleagues from the IUCN Tapir Specialists Group, he is currently testing the impact of tapir disturbances on the seedling and sapling communities using hundreds of exclosures across five Neotropical countries and in Malaysia. Dr. Beck has also been studying the effects of peccaries as ecosystem engineers - a species that physically modifies and creates new habitats. The results of his research are crucial for understanding the role of mammals within their ecosystem, and help us to develop new conservation and management strategies.

Dr. Mark Bulmer
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
Science Complex, 4150A
410-704-4065

Research in Dr. Bulmer's lab focuses on the immune defenses of social insects, specifically termites and their fungal pathogens. Termites appear to have exploited elements of the conserved innate immune system for socially mediated protection. Immune proteins that are usually associated with the hemolymph (insect blood) in other insects are spread among termite colony members by mutual grooming and incorporated into nest building materials. We are investigating the evolution and mechanism of these secreted proteins as well as the fungal pathogens that they appear to target.

Dr. Michelle Casey
Assistant Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences
Science Complex, 2150 F
410-704-2744

Dr. Casey’s research focuses on the ecological responses of clams and snails to natural and anthropogenic environmental disturbances on long timescales. In particular, she uses the fossil record as a natural laboratory to test ecological and evolutionary responses that operate at timescales beyond direct human observation and to determine the pristine ecological baseline of modern ecosystems in need of conservation or restoration. Past and current projects include: 1) Evaluation of commercial fishing, eutrophication, and hypoxia stressors in Long Island Sound and their effects on modern and recent fossil mollusks; 2) Use of stable isotopes (N and C) to evaluate trophic position (i.e., predator versus omnivore) of modern drilling gastropods and evaluate changes in diet associated with ecosystem change or stress; 3) Taphonomic and feeding experiment approaches that evaluate the amount and kinds of data we can reliably obtain from fossil shells, including changes in predatory behavior, predator identity, and predation intensity; and 4) Evaluation of geographic range size through time and its impact on extinction risk, including the study of factors that govern the preservation of a ​species’ geographic distribution in the fossil record.

Dr. Ryan Casey
Professor and Chair of Chemistry
Science Complex, 4301 A
410-704-3051

Web Page
Dr. Casey's research involves quantifying biogeochemical processes at the interface between terrestrial and aquatic systems. Currently he is focusing on quantifying major and trace element fluxes from urban impervious surfaces (e.g. roads, parking lots) into storm water retention ponds. He and his team are investigating the role of road salt and stormwater ponds in the long term salinization of surface waters in this region. Other studies have shown that Cl- levels are increasing in area streams draining impervious surfaces and have predicted that if this increase continues, sensitive organisms may be eliminated from these waters due to salt stress. They hypothesize that stormwater ponds introduce significant quantities of road salt into the subsurface where it can slowly migrate to surface waters throughout the course of the year. They are also evaluating changes in cation distribution that occur during salinization and the potential impacts those changes have on trace metal bioavailability and biota in stormwater ponds. Recently, they have also investigated the relative importance of sediment and biofilm for uptake of trace elements into larval amphibians. These organisms graze on biofilms and co-ingest sediments, both of which may be contaminated in stormwater ponds and other sites. This work addresses the question of whether ingested biofilm is as important as ingested sediment in trace element accumulation. Results to date indicate the biofilm is an important consideration for the accumulation of As and Se, while sediment is the dominant source for Cr and Ni.
Dr. Nicole Fabricant
Associate Professor Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice 
Liberal Arts, 3355
410.704.5221 

Dr. Nicole Fabricant is an associate professor at Towson University who teaches courses on environmental justice and resource extraction. 

Research: Much of my contemporary ethnographic research in Curtis Bay feeds into my historical and archival agenda which has collected primary data on industrial development throughout the 19th and 20th century. From the late nineteenth century, when the peninsula became a major importer of guano fertilizer from Peru or its World War II-era shipbuilding, to the later post-war decay of those industries, these waves of industrialization have cumulatively wreaked havoc upon lands, soils, and bodies. Theoretically, I use the concept of slow and fast violence to try to understand both environmental and bodily violence of industrial capitalism in Curtis Bay and trace the ways in which community residents are using, mobilizing this history to create alternative uses of land through community land trusts.” A central question of my research: who pays the price for industrial development and resulting pollution? In what ways does this history of violence inform movement building and collective imagining of a more sustainable (both economic and ecologically) future? 

My forthcoming book, Fighting to Breathe in the Black Butterfly, currently under contract with University of California Press (2021) narrates the rise of local community-based development, through which poor people across race and class are claiming rights to land, affordable housing, and economic co-operatives in their neighborhoods. It tells the story of one of the most environmentally unhealthy and uninhabitable places in Baltimore, the neighborhood of Curtis Bay, where asthma rates are higher than in any other U.S. city and where poor people are engaged in grassroots struggle for community control over land and rights to implement an alternative model of development. This book is about generative movement-building that resulted in the post-2015 Uprising environment of Baltimore, by focusing on one neighborhood’s struggle for housing and environmental justice amidst environmental toxicity.

Dr. Brian Fath
Professor of Biological Sciences
Smith Hall 273
410-704-2535

Web page
Dr. Fath's research goals are to understand better System Sustainability, which he addresses using three different approaches: network analysis, integrated environmental assessment, and information theory. Sustainability is a critically important area that encompasses a broad range of research interests including ecosystem services, biodiversity, natural resources, human cultures, and specific environments. He uses network analysis to investigate thermodynamic sustainability indicators. These indicators are often referred to as ecological goal functions, which are used to describe the direction of development that ecosystem properties such as energy or exergy flow, biomass production, or respiration undergo during succession. These metrics help understand the overall behavior and health of that system and its response due to perturbations. He is also interested in how ecosystems interact with human systems and vice versa. Integrated environmental assessment is an interdisciplinary and social process linking knowledge and action in public policy aimed at identifying and analyzing interactions of natural and human processes which determine both the current and future states of environmental quality.

 

Dr. Laura Gough
Chairperson of Biological Sciences
Science Complex, 4101A
410-704-4033
 
Dr. Gough's research is at the intersection of plant community ecology and ecosystem ecology.  She has been researching arctic tundra in Alaska for more than 20 years with a focus on understanding how plant communities and the organisms with which they interact affect ecossytem processes.  One recent project investigated how changes in vegetation associated with global warming are altering invertebrate communities and migratory songbird reproductive success.  Another has focused on the role of microtine rodents (voles and lemmings) in carbon and nutrient cycling.  She also supervises students conducting research locally on urban ecology and invasive plant species.
Dr. Sarah Gunning
Associate Professor of Technical Communication & Rhetoric
College of Liberal Arts, 4355 
410-704-3139 
 
Dr. Gunning’s research focuses on science communication, both in written form and in data visualizations. She is interested in pairing her ENGL 318 Technical & Scientific Writing course with study abroad courses within the sciences, getting students to practice writing for both professional and lay audiences in their area of expertise.  She also teaches ENGL 301 Science & Rhetoric and within the M.S. Professional Writing program's Technical/Scientific Writing & Information Design track. 
Dr. Sarah Haines
Professor of Biological Sciences
Science Complex, 3101K
410-704-2926

 
Dr. Haines’ research focuses on aspects of environmental education and the use of the environment as an integrated context for learning across all major academic disciplines. She is interested in professional development for both preservice and inservice teachers in the area of environmental education, and in providing teachers with the necessary content and pedagogical methods to effectively teach scientific concepts to their students. A major focus of her work also centers on developing outdoor classrooms on school grounds that can be used to effectively teach a variety of subject areas in a more student-centered, inquiry based manner.

Kimberly Hopkins, M.F.A.
Center for the Arts, 4018
410-704-3422

Professor Hopkins' research interests focus on design's impact on the environment, language, and people. Her research is interdisciplinary and currently explores improving the U.S. consumer recycling experience with Dr. Sungchul Hong in the computer science department. Previous projects include author-illustrating a wordless children's book for literacy development with Danielle Turner in the special education department; and connecting community voices via a gallery exhibition with a Baltimore County nonprofit.

Dr. Todd Kenreich
Hawkins Hall, 413N
410-704-5897

Dr. Kenreich conducts research on the enactment of global citizenship in the school curriculum. His interests lie in teacher professor development and geography education. He also directs the Maryland Geographic Alliance, a network of geographers, K-12 educators, and teacher educators working together to promote geographic education across the state. The alliance champions geography as a key to civic engagement, environmental stewardship, and global understanding in the 21st century.

Dr. John LaPolla
Professor of Biological Sciences
Science Complex, 3101E
410-704-3121

Coevolution of Acropyga ants and mealybugs: Acropyga ants display a fascinating behavior termed trophophoresy. Trophophoresy is the behavior of a queen ant taking with her on her mating flight a mealybug from her birth nest (LaPolla, 2002). This mealybug serves as a "seed" individual through which a new colony of mealybugs will be created. The ants feed on the sugary substances produced by the mealybugs. It is believed the ants and mealybugs are mutually dependent on one another for survival. Acropyga ants are, in a sense, the dairy farmers of the ant world.
We know virtually nothing about the symbiosis between Acropyga ants and their mealybug “cattle.” Investigating the biological aspects of this complex symbiosis has become a major component of Dr. LaPolla's research program. In collaboration with Drs. Ted Schultz & Sean Brady (National Museum of Natural History) and Dr. Joseph Bischoff (National Institutes of Health-GenBank), several important studies are planned over the next several years.

Biodiversity Studies: Dr. LaPolla has employed the replicable "ALL" (Ants of the Leaf Litter) protocol to examine patterns of ant diversity across South America. In collaboration with Dr. Ted Schultz (NMNH) and doctoral student Jeffery Sosa-Calvo (U Maryland-College Park), his research project will continue gathering and examining leaf litter ant data from Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil and Peru. Over the next three years, the team will complete ongoing studies comparing the Guiana Shield fauna to the rest of South America to extrapolate patterns of endemism and identify areas of conservation concern. Dr. LaPolla is also Lead Scientist for Conservation International’s Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring in Suriname. This project involves periodic ant sampling at Raleighvallen in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve.

Revisionary Systematics: Dr. LaPolla is completing a world revision of the ant genus Paratrechina, a large genus of over 140 species, and a group that contains many invasive species of agricultural and economic importance. With no taxonomic monograph available, most Paratrechina species are currently impossible to identify. Defining the species will help efforts at using biological control methods to control invasive species. The genus has never been revised and there are undoubtedly many new species awaiting discovery. He is also beginning a world revision of the genus Discothyrea with doctoral student Jeffery Sosa-Calvo (U Maryland-College Park). These enigmatic ants are found worldwide in subtropical and tropical localities. They are thought to be specialist predators on arthropod eggs.

Dr. James Manley

Professor of Economics

Stephens Hall, 101-P

410.704.2146 

 

Working in the Economics Department, Dr. Manley is an empirical microeconomist interested in using data to investigate events and policies. He has worked with survey data to investigate the damage caused by air pollution, and also has done systematic reviews and meta-analysis to estimate the effectiveness of social protection programs on child nutrition.

Dr. Joel Moore

Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences

Science Complex, 2150 B

410.704.4245

Web page

Dr. Moore’s research focuses on using geochemical tools to understand earth surface and atmospheric processes in natural and anthropogenically-impacted systems. Past and current projects include: 1) Mineral weathering and how it is affected by, or affects by a) Soil age, b) Ecosystem development, and/or c) Tectonic uplift and erosion; 2) Anthropogenic release, transportation, and fate of pollutants, particularly metals; and 3) Atmospheric CO2 concentrations and carbon isotopes to measure cycling in urban areas. He is also in the initial stages of a couple of projects in built and engineered systems including assessing the effects of subsurface sequestered CO2 leaking into drinking water aquifers and the relationship between concrete chemistry and microbial communities.

Dr. Clare Muhoro
Professor of Chemistry
Science Complex, 4301 B
410-704-4827

Dr. Muhoro's research involves "Novel Syntheses and Applications of Phosphorus- and Boron-Containing Bifunctional Ligands". She and her team utilize highly efficient homogeneous catalysis to synthesize phosphanyl(organyl)borane compounds, and apply these molecules as ligands in the synthesis of transition metal complexes. These unique ligands can be applied as functional ligands e.g., as nucleophile binding agents, Lewis acid cocatalysts in polymerizations reactions or as monomers in the synthesis of uncommon Lewis Acid-Base polymers.

Undergraduate researchers conduct this work exclusively under inert-atmosphere on a Schlenk line and in a glove-box. The students characterize the compounds by proton, carbon, boron and phosphorus NMR spectroscopy, GC-MS, and IR and UV-Vis spectroscopies. Another area of Dr. Muhoro's research involves "Mechanisms of Decomposition of Organic Pesticides in Aqueous Environments." The aquatic fate of organic pesticides depends on numerous parameters that are unique to a given aquatic system such as pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen content, metal ion content, and salinity. Her group is interested in investigating the pathways of decomposition of organic pesticides under specific conditions. The research involves travel to study sites, located in tropical regions, to characterize the aquatic environments in which organic pesticides are found. The field work is followed by laboratory studies involving kinetic studies on pesticide degradation. Undergraduate students measure reaction rates using proton NMR and UV-Vis spectroscopies.

Dr. Jay Nelson
Professor of Biological Sciences
Smith Hall 257
410-704-3945
jnelson@iup.edu

Web page
Dr. Nelson’s research broadly focuses on trying to understand how the environment controls life processes and how living organisms have evolved to respond to environmental pressures in two systems: 1) The main focus of the research is the nutritional physiological ecology of Loricariid catfish. Evidence suggests that loricariid catfishes of the genus Panaque are capable of utilizing wood in their diet. I am studying the ability of Panaque to degrade carbon polymers like cellulose and hemi-cellulose. I am also investigating the enzymes produced by the microflora of Panaque guts. In collaboration with Dr. Don Stewart of the SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry and Bill Patterson of Syracuse University, I am trying to take this research to South America so that we may better understand the unique biology of Panaque in situ. 2) I am also collaborating with colleagues in Canada to investigate factors that contribute to locomotor performance in Atlantic cod. I have already shown that exercise physiology in these fish varies on an individual and population level and that environment (salinity and temperature) are important limiting factors. We are currently trying to better understand the inter-relationships of various locomotor types in cod, their relationship to predatory ability, and how other physiological factors like nutritional state influence locomotor capacity and physiology. 3) I am in the planning stages of starting a research project on the locomotor capacity of local fishes. This may take the form of collaboration with Dr. Joel Snodgrass of this department studying the effects of human developments on local stream fish populations.
Dr. David Ownby
Professor of Chemistry
Science Complex, 3301 J
410-704-2946

Web Page

A general theme present in Dr. Ownby's research is the goal of developing models and utilizing novel statistical approaches to accurately predict the effects and fate of metals, both singularly and in combination in both aquatic and terrestrial systems. His research addresses issues of how the chemistry of a system affects the bioavailability of metals and the consequential affect of the metal on the organism. Other projects that have been a part of his research include fate and distribution of mercury in the environment, bioaccumulation of explosives, species sensitivity distributions, and adaptation of organisms to contaminated sites.

Dr. Martin Roberge
Professor of Geography and Environmental Planning
Liberal Arts 2210G
410-704-5011
Web page
Dr. Roberge's research focuses on the interaction between human society and its physical environment. He uses methods from the fields of Geomorphology, Geographic Information Science, and Remote Sensing to study our impact on urban streams and watersheds. Some of his past projects have investigated how channel structures have affected the Salt River in Phoenix, Ariz. He is currently studying patterns of urban development in the Chesapeake Bay watershed; the effects of historical soil erosion in Baltimore County; and the causes and effects of trail erosion in the Baltimore metropolitan region.
Dr. Christopher Salice
Director, Environmental Science & Studies
Science Complex, 5301A
410-704-4920
 
Research in Dr. Salice’s lab is broadly focused on understanding and predicting the effects of anthropogenic activities on ecological systems. His lab uses field research, laboratory studies and mathematical modeling to address problems in applied ecology, conservation and ecotoxicology. A strong focus of current research lies in using bio- and eco-energetic frameworks to understand the effects of environmental toxicants on aquatic systems. A key challenge in managing environmental systems is the disconnect between how data are frequently generated (in the lab, on a single species) and the complexity of systems we want to protect (communities and ecosystems). Our lab is working on using the universal currency of life – energy – as a way to build a mechanistic understanding of anthropogenic stress in an ecological context. Additionally, the lab has had a strong interest in reptile and amphibian ecology and ecotoxicology and future projects will likely involve evaluating impacts of environmental stressors on developing amphibians. Students in the Salice lab will eventually be expected to conduct independent research but are usually trained by working on existing projects within the lab. Students are also encouraged to participate in research conferences and to ideally publish their work.
Dr. Colleen Winters
Assistant Chairperson, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
Science Complex, 5150E
410-704-3124
cwinters@towson.edu
Dr. Winters' research involves the study of genetic diversity in populations of invertebrates and vertebrates. Current projects include an analysis of the genetic structure of terrestrial snail populations in the Potomac Gorge; a study of the population diversity in gopher tortoises at Kennedy Space Center in Florida; and DNA barcoding of terrestrial snails in the genus Stenotrema. Projects her laboratory allow students to gain experience in the field through sample collection and in the laboratory with the use of molecular techniques including polymerase chain reaction, electrophoresis, sequencing and microsatellite analysis.
Dr. John Sivey
Associate Professor of Chemistry
Science Complex, 4301 D
410-704-6087
 

Web page

Research in Dr. Sivey’s group focuses on environmental organic chemistry and the chemistry of drinking water treatment.  Specifically, Dr. Sivey’s group examines the chemistry of aqueous disinfectants (including free chlorine and free bromine) as well as the generation disinfection by-products.  The reactivity of biologically-important molecules (e.g., amino acids) toward chlorinating and brominating agents is of particular interest. The group also examines the transformation mechanisms and environmental fate of agrochemicals (including pesticides and so-called "inert" ingredients).

Dr. Jeremy Tasch
Professor of Geography
Liberal Arts, 2210G
410-704-4270
 

Dr. Tasch conducts research on the human dimensions of climate change and resource development, particularly in the Arctic, Caucasus, Central Asia and Pacific Russia. His work addresses conflict and cooperation between multiple stakeholders where natural resources are the drivers of development or where their absence creates alternative development  dilemmas as well as opportunities.