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College of Arts & Sciences

Erin O'Brien

Erin O'Brien, outdoors portrait

Visiting Assistant Professor

Biological Sciences
Irvine 061
obriene@ohio.edu


Education

Ph.D. Ohio State University, Forest Entomology

Courses Taught

BIOS 1710: Biological Sciences II: Ecology, Evolution, and Animal Body Systems

Research Interests

Conservation biology has been my passion since I studied bald eagles for my seventh-grade science fair project, and I have directed my education and work experiences to enable me to be involved in preserving natural ecosystems and conserving native flora and fauna within these ecosystems. After receiving a B.S. in Biology from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, I pursued an M.S. in conservation biology at Eastern Kentucky University. My thesis examined winter habitat suitability of loggerhead shrikes. The goal of this study was to determine if there were certain habitat characteristics that shrikes were selecting for during the non-breeding season and to assess whether suitable habitat was limited. The experience gained from this study transformed my research interests from conservation of individual species to conservation of ecosystems.   

After completing my master’s work, I began working for the USDA-APHIS-PPQ testing insecticides used to control populations of invasive insects. Our projects primarily focused on controlling Asian longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer. This work ultimately motivated me to pursue a Ph.D. in forest conservation, specifically investigating ways to manage forests impacted by emerald ash borer.    

I received a Ph.D. in 2017 from The Ohio State University in forest entomology. For my dissertation research, I worked with Five Rivers MetroParks in Dayton, Ohio, where they treated 600 ash trees with a systemic insecticide, emamectin benzoate. My research objectives were to 1) compare survival and canopy health of treated and untreated ash trees, 2) quantify whether clusters of treated ash trees can provide associational protection to untreated, neighboring ash trees, 3) determine if clusters of treated ash trees can maintain ash reproduction and seedling recruitment, and 4) measure population genetics of ash seedlings to determine whether the emerald ash borer invasion causes a loss of genetic variation in the surviving seedlings.

Future research

I plan to be involved with research that applies knowledge to actively preserve and protect natural areas. Protecting natural ecosystems is important for maintaining resilience against the negative effects of climate change and pollution. In particular, restoring wetlands, forests, prairie, and coastal ecosystems provides habitat for many native plants and animals, prevents soil erosion, decreases flooding, and reduces water pollution. Additionally, I plan to continue investigating management strategies for invasive plants, insects, and diseases. Invasive species disrupt ecosystem balance and make those systems more prone to future disturbances.


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