Member Spotlight 2017-11-13T13:46:21+00:00

Member Spotlight

Jessica Blois

Assistant Professor

University of California – Merced

Interview by J. Eric Williams (IBS Social Media Intern)

Our first ‘member spotlight’ featured biogeographer has been a member of the IBS since 2009, and is the 2017 winner of the International Biogeography Society’s MacArthur & Wilson Award.  Read about her below in the Q&A session!

Q.  Can you give a general overview of your research?

I am a paleobiogeographer, interested in the factors that shape plant and animal populations and assemblages across space and time. I typically focus on climate, trying to determine the role it plays in affecting distributions and trying to determine which climate variables are driving observed responses. I also investigate how the role of climate changes over both time and space. Finally, I also look at what other factors might structure the historical dynamics of assemblages or populations across the landscape.

Q. What lead you to your career. What brought you into the field?

Chance lead me into this field. I originally entered college with the goal of becoming a doctor and anticipated that I would be a pre-med major. However, while in college I began leading and guiding kayaking and backpacking adventures for an outdoor adventure company and at the same time, took an environmental studies class. These two experiences introduced me to the outdoors and to the field of ecology. I eventually ended up majoring in ecology, behavior, and evolution. My goal was to become a Marine Biologist, but I ended up taking a 2-year internship with the US Forest Service in Oregon, which really brought me into the terrestrial realm. I really enjoyed the work and experience that I gained in Oregon, but I soon realized that I wanted to progress my career, and decided to obtain my Master’s degree. I got my Master’s at Humboldt State University, focusing on phylogenetics. This led to an increased interest in small mammals and their ecological histories, which in turn led me to pursue my Ph.D. at Stanford University, which opened the door to the ecology and paleobiogeography realms.

Q.  In all of your experiences since the beginning of your scientific career, what do you find the most exciting about your work?

It is exciting when various pieces of evidence converge and point to an emergent result or pattern. It is also interesting when the evidence seems to diverge, but then you find a little piece of evidence or hypothesis that connects the patterns together, when it otherwise looked relatively unrelated. I enjoy the opportunity to work with students and to be able to watch them go through the process of scientific discovery. I also feel that it is a privilege to get paid to think and contribute knowledge to my scientific community and field.

Q.  What makes you think your research is important?

If we want to know where we are going in the future as a society, and we know that society is intimately linked with nature, we need to understand how our landscape modifications have affected and will affect ecosystems in the future. With species already responding to current global changes, it is especially important to know and understand the range of responses and variation that we can expect from species and ecosystems, both with and without humans. Understanding past responses to these types of changes is one good way to gain information and understanding of species and ecosystem responses to future change. This knowledge can potentially inform future conservation and policy decisions as well.

Q. What future research avenues or ideas are you most excited about pursuing or seeing other research groups pursue?

One area of interest is in estimating the individual and population-level variation in response to climate changes across the landscape and to determine when variability is more or less important for shaping responses to climate. A second area of interest is in multi-taxa studies, especially those integrating across trophic levels, to determine if observed patterns and responses to climate are shared or different across taxa. Lastly, are the patterns observed in these cross-trophic level studies emerging at the same time or place, and is the emergence of these patterns different across taxa or across other measures of diversity such as genetic or functional diversity?

Q.  What has been your most defining moment throughout your career?

Receiving the MacArthur Wilson award from the International Biogeography Society.

Q.  What is the favorite part of your job/research?

I really love being in the field, but I think these days my favorite part is data analysis. When you get to the point of analyzing your data, that’s when you start seeing the results of your labor.

Q.  Lastly, what do you like to do in your free time?

I like to hike, backpack, and spend time with my family and friends. I enjoy having gatherings, especially when they involve a combination of all of the activities I just mentioned, where I can hike and backpack with my family and friends, which makes it all the better.

We expect the member spotlight feature will change approximately every 1-2 months.  Have a suggestion for who to interview here for an upcoming feature?  Contact Us!