Alex Borowicz , a member of Heather Lynch’s lab, does fieldwork on the Antarctic Peninsula. After starting out as a photojournalism student, Alex found his way to the Human Ecology program at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor where he completed his undergraduate degree.
I use a range of interdisciplinary methods – from genomics to stable isotope ecology to qualitative interviewing – in order to understand the most pressing threats to hutias and to inform the conservation of these unique animals. The integration of different methods allows us to answer questions that we normally wouldn’t be able to, and I think this is a really exciting development in what conservation biologists can do. So far, I’ve traveled to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica in order to study these animals and forge connections with local conservation and regulatory agencies.
I’m currently taking a class in qualitative interviewing from the Sociology department, and it’s been great to expand my knowledge and learn how to apply methods from other fields.
You have received departmental awards which helped you conduct your initial international research. How would the receipt of additional funding enable you to do?
With more funding, I will be able to pay for the sequencing of a complete, high-quality hutia genome. While sequencing technology has become increasingly more affordable, the kind of analysis I’m doing requires extensive sequencing, which is more expensive.
Even though I grew up in the city away from “nature,” I’ve always been interested in wildlife and conservation biology is my lifelong passion. When I got to graduate school, it was just a matter of finding an exciting system to work in, and I’m glad to be working with my hutias.
I majored in Biology at the Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, CUNY. I was a first-generation college student, so receiving mentorship from David Lahti as I crafted my own research project on birdsong was a really important part of my professional development.
This field project is part of a larger investigation of the microbiome’s role in host resiliency to climate change. My research broadly focuses on larval and early juvenile quahog clams, and their responses to seawater acidification and low dissolved oxygen stress (hypoxia). This summer I characterized differences in quahog microbiomes and host health among sites in the Peconic River, Forge River, and Shinnecock Bay (Long Island, NY).
I have been interested in bivalve conservation since I first worked for a non-profit organization doing oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay (St. Mary’s River Watershed Association; www.smrwa.org). As larval life stages of bivalves are the most vulnerable to environmental stressors and the most critical for population persistence, I wanted my dissertation research to focus on this component of bivalve life history.
Biometry was foundational to my understanding of data analysis, data interpretation, and experimental design. Biometry (and now Bayesian Statistics) has been invaluable for building my coding toolbox.
Can you tell us a little about your research?
My research uses both field work and quantitative methods to try to understand how the incorporation of data on biotic interactions (i.e. competition) and extreme events, such as hurricanes, may impact the future distributions and long-term viability of Puerto Rican anoles. Using manual removal and addition experiments of Puerto Rican anoles, I aim to quantify the degree of competition taking place between various pairs of Anolis species. This competition data will be integrated into species distribution models to determine if the explicit incorporation of biotic interactions improves the predictive performance of the models. I am also working on incorporating ecologically-relevant hurricane data for Puerto Rico into both species distribution models and population models to determine if hurricanes may play a role in shaping future distributions of anoles and/or impacting their long-term viability under climate change.
How has the receipt of departmental funding enabled you to conduct research?
The Stony Brook Excellent in Ecology & Evolution Award assisted me in renting a car in Puerto Rico for my summer 2019 field season. This was critical to my field work because Puerto Rico does not have adequate public transportation and I was traveling throughout the island on a daily basis.
The Robert R. Sokal Research in Statistical Biology Award funded the tagging equipment that I will use on the Puerto Rican anoles for my mark-recapture methods. I use VI Alpha Tags for tagging the anoles, which allows for individual identification often over many years.
How did you get interested in this topic?
Lizards have excited me since I was very young, but it was not until my undergraduate career that I realized I could pursue a career in conservation biology focusing on lizard conservation. As a research assistant to Dr. Brad Lister at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and later his Masters student, I worked on understanding how different futuristic climate change scenarios may impact the future habitat suitability of Puerto Rican anoles. I enjoyed this research a lot, and it led me to applying to work with conservation biologists who use quantitative methods to answer important conservation-related questions for my PhD.
When you are not working, what do you like to do on Long Island?
I really enjoy living on Long Island. I like the fact that when you travel east you are surrounded by farmland, but when you travel west you find yourself in one of the most famous cities in the world. To top that off, you’re completely surrounded by ocean, which I love.