Lionel Plummer

Doctoral Candidate Puts Nature to Work

Lionel Plummer analyzed constructed wetlands to determine how well ecosystem function.

Lionel Plummer did his studying wearing knee-high rubber boots and standing in a swamp.

The Texas Tech University doctoral student, who is in the Land Use Planning, Management and Design program, defended his dissertation in early October, describing in 100 pages how wetlands are constructed and why the United States may not be doing as well in wetland restoration as experts thought.

“We’re at a point now where the land is so developed, every last square foot is accounted for,” he said. “People are literally starting to put price tags on natural resources, and this is something that’s been talked about for 10-20 years.”

Working with Robert Cox, an associate professor of habitat restoration ecology in the Department of Natural Resources Management, Plummer created a project allowing him to study wetlands created by ecologists after natural wetlands were destroyed in development. The for-profit projects are created on behalf of developers who destroy the wetlands during development; the law requires developers to mitigate the damage. His research focused on how well wetland mitigation banks actually function – that is, are they a legitimate replacement for the natural wetlands destroyed by development? Is the wildlife thriving? Most importantly, is the water flow working?

“What really drives a wetland is the underlying hydrology. It’s the precipitation, it’s the runoff, it’s the ponding – any H20 on that site factors into its hydrology,” he said. “For wetlands, water is what drives everything. If you’re focusing on anything else, you’re really not looking at the locomotive, you’re looking at the caboose.”