Biodiversity Institute Fellows Profiles

Hannah Owens

PhD, 2015
Advisors: Ed Wiley and A. Townsend Peterson
Dissertation title: Modeling species distributions: applications and methods for marine biogeography and conservation
Home country: United States (Downers Grove, IL)
Current position: Post Doc, mentored by Rob Guralnick at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida

Why did you choose KU? 
I lived in Parkville, Missouri, in high school, and came over to KU a few times. The school was the right size. I started as a theater major; I took an acting class and decided it was horrible. I took biology for non-majors and the rest, as they say, was history. 

You participated in the NSF program IGERT: C-CHANGE: Climate Change, Humans, and Nature in the Global Environment. How did that influence your doctoral research? 
It's an interdisciplinary program. It included study in Greenland and in Mexico, and it incorporated indigenous knowledge into the study of climate change. It gave me the opportunity to work with people from all different backgrounds, and I learned how people in other disciplines ask and answer research questions. In Mexico, we went to the overwintering sites for monarch butterflies to explore how climate change is affecting them, and then further, if the butterflies must overwinter somewhere else, how that will affect the local economy, which is in part based on the tourism generated by the presence of the butterflies.  My doctoral research crossed disciplines, too. It focused primarily on the relationship between gadine fishes, fisheries, and climate change, but also included coelacanths and the history of national fisheries policy in the United States, including a chapter about how the best outcomes from conservation happen when researchers and policy makers work together. 

Why focus on those fish?
The family Gadinae, a clade that includes such economically important species as the Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, and haddock, Merlangius aeglefinus, has an uncertain future. The subarctic and arctic, where these fish occur, rank among those regions projected to be most vulnerable to climate-change-induced ecosystem shifts. Understanding the biogeographic history of the clade is key to understanding potential range responses of these species to climate change. Fortunately, a rich body of genetic and geographic data is available for this group, making it an ideal system to develop a comprehensive ecological and evolutionary context in which to understand the biogeography of these species.

What's next for you?
I was awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology. I will be mentored by Rob Guralnick at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The project is entitled "Out of the Tropics and Out of the Drawer: Integrative Analysis of the Tropical Diversity Gradient From Museum Collections of New World Swallowtail Butterflies."  I'll be comparing the breadth of the ecological niche of species of swallowtail with the breadth of their morphological diversity. It’s taking a lot of ideas  and mashing them together. The goal of the research is to innovate analysis of the tropical diversity gradient by incorporating traditionally-hypothesized drivers of the pattern, such as evolutionary history, clade age, and diversification rate, with novel factors such as tropicality of suitable ecological niche, breadth of abiotic niche, and morphological variability.