Meet the Future of Ecosystem Science and Management: Ember Bradbury (MS ’22)
There are multiple reasons why Ember Bradbury (MS ’22) chose to pursue her MS at SEAS, but one reason that rose to the top was the breadth of coursework that would be available to her. Her sense was that having access to highly technical identification classes, like Woody Plants, as well as highly technical environmental justice classes, like Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice, would provide her with a balanced education. “I knew that I wanted to be an ecologist, both because I wanted to support the Western U.S. in adapting to climate change and because I am fascinated by the complexity and beauty of ecosystems. I knew that SEAS would help me achieve those goals. I was going to specialize in Ecosystem Science and Management, but I decided that I needed to add the Environmental Justice specialization to help me do truly good work that creates opportunities for both human and non-human systems to survive and thrive. Having both specializations has been an amazing opportunity and I feel that I am well-prepared to be a supportive researcher and mentor,” said Bradbury.
Due to the pandemic, Bradbury’s first year of classes at SEAS were virtual, and her second year was partially virtual. While learning virtually comes with its own set of benefits and challenges, she cites two online classes, in particular, that made a huge impact on her: Ivette Perfecto’s Diverse Farming Systems and Kyle Whyte’s Indigenous Sustainability and Environmental Justice. “I am so glad that I was able to still deeply engage with the class material and the learning community during the period of intense quarantine and social distancing. Both classes were incredibly well-taught and contained strategies for taking action and making necessary changes to both academia and society as a whole,” said Bradbury. “I am so grateful to both Dr. Perfecto and Dr. Whyte for the rigor and importance of their classwork, and to SEAS for supporting and encouraging environmental justice coursework across disciplines.”
Specializing in Ecosystem Science and Management allowed Bradbury to focus her thesis on the response of Puerto Rican coffee agroecosystems, which are communities of plants and animals interacting with their physical and chemical environments that have been modified by people to produce products for human consumption and processing, and the coquí frogs (Eleutherodactylus spp.) that live within them to Hurricane María. The project team found that these frogs demonstrated resilience to the hurricane, even while the coffee farms that they lived in were heavily damaged. However, there was a shift in the species composition of the frogs, which might have ecosystem-wide implications. Bradbury also conducted work about the natural pest control potential of coquís and anole lizards (Anolis spp.) using genomic metabarcoding and field surveying.
Bradbury is headed to Colorado State University (CSU) next year to pursue a PhD in Rangeland Ecology and will be part of Caroline Havrilla’s Dryland Ecology and Management Lab. She was also selected as a trainee in the National Science Foundation-funded InTERFEWS program at CSU, which supports work happening in the nexus of Food, Energy, and Water systems. Bradbury’s PhD research will be part of the RestoreNet project and will support the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in tailoring a restoration system that incorporates cattle grazing and solar energy for their tribal lands. “I am beyond excited to be starting my PhD work at CSU and to be contributing to a project that has so many layers of importance. By contributing to this work, I know that I am going to learn so much, and still be making tangible and genuine steps towards caring for the human and non-human environments in the West in the process. These opportunities would not have been possible without the education and mentorship I received at SEAS, and I am so grateful for that,” said Bradbury.
In addition to her studies, Bradbury plans to continue her birth doula practice and reproductive justice activism, and begin her training as a homebirth midwife. Ultimately, she hopes to find a balance between birth work and ecological research. She also plans on implementing a program at CSU that’s similar to the Sustainable Period Project that she headed at U-M, which was able to distribute over 1,000 reusable menstrual cups and underwear to U-M affiliates thanks to funding from the Planet Blue Student Initiative Fund and support from SEAS.
Reflecting on the experience of attending SEAS
During her time at SEAS, Bradbury says that the most important thing she has learned is that in order for science to be effective, it needs to be collaborative, have community buy-in, and be justice-oriented. She says that these things were modeled by all SEAS faculty and especially by her mentor, Ivette Perfecto, who also had a big influence on Bradbury’s course of study. “When I came to SEAS, I thought that I wanted to be a raptor ecologist, and wanted to examine how pesticides impact these birds. However, through taking Dr. Perfecto’s class and learning more from her and my other course work, I realized that I needed to zoom out from a single study organism and focus more on the full systems that are interacting within agroecology. Prior to SEAS, I didn’t know that agroecology even existed, but once I learned the word and the meaning behind it, I felt like it perfectly articulated what I wanted to work on all along. Now that I’m going back to the West, being from Utah and growing up in ranching culture, I am so excited to apply the lessons that I’ve learned in tropical study systems and through my excellent education to ecosystems that are foundational to my identity,” said Bradbury.