Ecologist receives NSF CAREER grant

Writer: Beth Gavrilles

Feb. 5, 2020

Environmental portrait of professor Krista Capps using a multiparameter meter in Tanyard Creek.

Aquatic ecologist Krista Capps, an assistant professor in the Odum School of Ecology and Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, has been awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development program.

CAREER grants, which are among the most prestigious given by the NSF, support early-career faculty who exhibit promise as both researchers and teachers, and whose work has the potential to advance their field and their institution.

“CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation are prestigious, only given to those that have already become accomplished for their science,” said John L. Gittleman, dean of the Odum School of Ecology. “But even more important, they signify the confidence that their research will continue to grow in critically important areas. This is an exceptional honor for Dr. Capps as well as for the scientific strength of ecology and UGA.”

A member of the River Basin Center, Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems, the Center for Integrative Conservation Research, and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute at the University of Georgia, Capps studies the structures and processes of freshwater ecosystems with a focus on how human activities alter them.

The five-year, $1.18 million CAREER grant will fund research about the impacts of wastewater on the structure and function of tropical rivers, particularly the impacts of pollution that results from aging and obsolete wastewater infrastructure.

“Obsolete water infrastructure is a critical problem threatening freshwater systems and compromising economic stability, human welfare, and the environment,” said Capps. “Yet we have a limited understanding of how human waste affects ecosystem structure and function through space and time. This research program will use field observations, experiments and modeling to provide new insights into interactions between civil and environmental engineering and ecosystem science, and will generate information relevant to supporting local decision-making pertaining to water infrastructure.”

The project will also promote outreach and education, engaging hundreds of undergraduates through new educational modules and service-learning projects in environmental science and ecology courses, and through new national and international research opportunities. In addition, it will support the development of a program in environmental science that will train high school students in stream ecology and support internships for students with local governments and freshwater conservation organizations. Research opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars will also be an integral part of the research program.

“Solving environmental problems of the future ultimately depends on better preparing citizens to use data as evidence to engage rationally with complex multidisciplinary issues,” said Capps. “So providing research experience and training for diverse groups of students and early-career researchers will be a key component of this work.”