Christine M. Stracey

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Biology and
Florida Museum of Natural History

Research Interests

As an urban ecologist, the goal of my research is to understand how nature works in places where people live and work.  As the area and density of urban environments is increasing, so too is the recognition amongst ecologists that urban environments represent unique opportunities to study ecosystems, communities, populations, and individual organisms in novel landscapes. While many species are adversely affected by urbanization, some species are more abundant in urban and suburban habitats than in more natural areas. The fact that certain species, including some native species, are able to utilize and even flourish in urban settings highlights the potential importance of urban ecosystems in the conservation of biodiversity. Urban ecosystems will never replace or surpass the value of pristine nature reserves for the conservation of biodiversity, but they do provide some unique conservation opportunities. In particular, biodiversity in urban habitats provides vital opportunities to address the “extinction of experience”, in which people living in cities are disconnected from nature and thus do not value it.

In order for urban planners to fully utilize the potential of urban ecosystems, ecologists must first understand the mechanisms that structure urban populations and communities.
 My research, therefore, focuses on urban adapters and exploiters, and I am interested in determining the characteristics of these species that enable them to successfully inhabit urban and suburban environments.  I investigate this question on multiple scales - from changes in individual behavior to community-wide patterns associated with living in towns and cities.

For more information, study results, and cool nest videos please see Mockingbird Research.

Teaching Philosophy

My goals for my students are to provide them with factual knowledge and practical skills, facilitate their intellectual growth, and fully engage them in the process of science.  I believe the best way to teach the process of science is to allow students to participate in original research both in the classroom and through independent projects.  In labs I expect students to formulate their own hypotheses and predictions, as well as to help design the experiments as opposed to following the traditional “cookbook” lab manuals.  Giving students the responsibility of working through this inquiry-based process introduces them to the types of factors that need to be considered when designing experiments and helps them appreciate the idea that there is more than one way to do things.  A critical component of science, which is often under-appreciated by students, is the publication of results.  Therefore, I expect my students to use the primary literature, and whenever possible, strive to contribute to that literature.

Mentoring Philosophy

I have three main goals for the undergraduate students that I mentor.  I help my students to accomplish these by working with them on original research projects and holding weekly lab meetings in which we focus on these topics.

1) To fully engage my students in the process of science.  By allowing students to participate in each step in the process of answering a question, they have the opportunity to experience the creativity of hypothesis generation and the development of methods, the frustrations and failures of data collection, and the thrills of discovery.

2) To help my students to develop critical thinking skills. I encourage students to challenge themselves and others in a constructive manner. Experimental design and study limitations are important considerations in this evaluation and are frequent topics of discussion in my lab group.  Critical evaluation is important not only for science, but also in every day life, as students are confronted with media coverage and advertisements that are constantly making claims.

3) To teach my students to communicate effectively.  Scientists need to be able to communicate in a concise and clear manner with other scientists and also with non-scientists.  I encourage my students to obtain practice in oral communication by telling their family and friends about their research projects.  I also expect students to present their ideas and results to our lab group and at a conference.  They are expected to write a proposal on their research and a manuscript on their results on which I provide feedback.

The research experience is important to help students who are considering careers in science to evaluate if research is right for them.  Furthermore, all the skills they gain working on their research projects, from the ability to communicate to the increase in self confidence, will translate into important life skills no matter what direction their lives ultimately take.