Marion Wittmann knows Lake Tahoe. From the invasive species that live in the basin of Lake Tahoe to the effects of the boats on the surface, this ecologist takes to the lake like a boat to water. Wittmann is known at UC Davis for her research and presentations on the Asian Clam Invasion, a particularly damaging species to environments like Lake Tahoe.
How would you describe your research?
I research the spread of aquatic invasive species and their ecological impacts to freshwater systems such as lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
How has UC Davis helped in your research?
I was a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, and carried out my dissertation research at Lake Tahoe, studying the spread of Eurasian watermilfoil by recreational boaters. UC Davis helped to provide lab space, scientific support and community for me through the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. I am currently a post-doctoral researcher with Geoff Schladow at the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. UC Davis has completely enabled me to get where I am today.
Do you ever teach? If so, what do you teach?
I don’t teach now, but at UC Santa Barbara I was a TA for statistics, invertebrate zoology and environmental economics.
What inspired you to do your research at Lake Tahoe?
It’s beauty. And it’s susceptibility to ecological change as a result of its exposure to aquatic invasive species through recreational boating, and also its exposure to climate change.
What is so bad about non-native species in certain environments?
Non-native species can dramatically change native ecologies, they can out-compete species that are native to a system, creating a very homogenous environment – sort of like if your garden were to be over grown by weeds. They also provide a lot of problems for users of lakes, rivers and reservoir systems; they can clog water intakes, slow water conveyance, decrease water quality, tangle swimmers and damage boats.
Where is your favorite place in California and why?
Morro Bay. It’s extremely beautiful there and very quintessentially Californian in its landscape. It is also home to the world’s most difficult miniature golf course.
What is one thing people could do to preserve the planet’s ecology?
Don’t use so much stuff! Conserve everything. Use less water, less packaging, less electronics, less gas, less, less, less!
Where did you go to school?
UC Berkeley for undergrad, UC Santa Barbara for graduate school.
Does studying clams ever make you crave a nice seafood dinner?
No. After working with these clams, I can’t eat shellfish anymore. I still love sushi, however.
What do you like to do when you aren’t studying non-native species?
Study native species! I also love to read, watch movies, hike, play indoor soccer and drinking wines from Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez valley.
If you weren’t in ecology, what would you do as your career and why?
Probably something also related to the environment, possibly alternative energy development like wind or solar power. I would do this because I believe that natural resources must be preserved and more efficiently utilized than they are today.
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org