Carissa Wonkka receives Tom Slick Fellowship for 2013-2014

Congratulations to Carissa Wonkka! Carissa, a Ph.D. student in ESSM working with Dr. Bill Rogers and Dr. Urs Kreuter, received a Tom Slick Fellowship for the 2013-2014 academic year. The Tom Slick Fellowship is the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' most prestigious competitive fellowship. It is awarded to outstanding graduate students to support the completion of their dissertations after they have been admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

Carissa explains her research and background:

Carissa Wonkka receives Tom Slick Fellowship for 2013-2014 I am researching the influence of disturbance, soils, and socio-economic constraints on plant community responses to restoration efforts aimed at brush reduction in encroached semi-arid rangelands. Woody plant expansion into grasslands and savannas is an important issue in rangelands, affecting over 330 million hectares in the United States. This encroachment can lead to a reduction in forage available to cattle and declines in the sustainability of commercial and pastoral ranches. Additionally, encroachment can reduce herbaceous biodiversity, alter ecosystem functioning, and lower habitat quality for many species. My research will elucidate legal and economic constraints that limit options available to managers for dealing with brush encroachment and grassland restoration. Experimental manipulations will explore plant community responses to different restoration techniques across sites with varied topo-edaphic characteristics and land-use histories. The aim of my research is to develop a more complete understanding of biotic and abiotic influences on plant community dynamics and regulatory and liability limitations to the use of prescribed fire as a restoration tool. The results of this research will provide insight necessary to developing effective management plans specific to the ecosystem characteristics of particular sites. 

My background uniquely suits me to explore linkages between socio-economic systems and ecological systems. Prior to completing a Master of Science degree in rangeland ecology and management, I obtained a law degree, focusing on environmental law. I hope to use skills developed through the study of this combination of disciplines to bridge the gap between policy and ecological science in my doctoral research. I plan to complete my doctorate in August 2014 and continue to develop social-ecological research with an aim to improve sustainability in management of natural resources.