In Profile: Dr. Allison Pease
Wading through the still waters of a desert stream in sunny New Mexico or splashing through a cool rushing creek while fending off mosquitos in Belize, Allison Pease and her research team spend much of their time in the field pulling seine nets through water courses. This method along with light trapping and electroshocking allow the team to get a good idea of which fish make their home there and provide a measure of their abundance.
Just like land based animals fish have different habitat needs in order to successfully reproduce and survive. For example some specialists take advantage of areas of fast moving water that are difficult for other fishes to navigate. They have suction-cup like mouths and a streamlined body that allow them to suck on to rocks in fast flowing water and capture aquatic insects that live there. Their eggs and larvae may also require a certain amount of water flow to reach maturity. Other species are generalists. Although they may not be able to forage in fast flowing water they have mouthparts and body shapes that allow them to consume many types of prey and successfully reproduce even in low-quality habitats.
Groups of species that generalize or specialize in the same way form functional groups in a community. Dr. Pease is examining how these groups may dominate or disappear from communities that reside in streams and rivers that have alterations in water quality and flow characteristics because of environmental changes. These changes may include climate change, altered land use due to agriculture or urbanization, dam construction, or groundwater withdrawal.
Ultimately this work may help us understand and predict changes in community structure occurring in fish species assemblages across the country or around the globe that are experiencing similar changes in abiotic factors.
For Dr. Pease field work is not just about collecting data. She says when she is lucky she gets to "hike, camp, and mess around in streams" as part of her job. What other part of her job does she enjoy? She really likes mentoring both undergraduates and grad students and identifies teaching as one of the main reasons she chose to be a professor. Her favorite class to teach is Freshwater Bioassessment (NRM 4335) which she describes as her "favorite subject" because her research is driven by the question of how to assess the health of a body of water based on the that organisms live there. Getting to teach a whole course on that topic is "really exciting to her". (Learn more about NRM 4335)
When she is not working Dr. Pease enjoys reading, watching independent films and checking out live music.
Written by Kate LeVering in collaboration with Allison Pease