Fraser Shilling, Research Interests

My academic background is varied. I was originally trained (Ph.D.) as an aquatic ecologist, but was side-lining in cell physiology at the same time. I went off to do 2 post-doctoral research fellowships in reproductive cell physiology and molecular biology (the second at UCD). I got tired of trying to rationalize using animals in research and disposing of nasty chemicals. After one of my reproductive experiments went awry and I ended up as a father, I changed fields entirely. Now he is 9-years-old and I conduct various projects in how people behave in regulated and cooperative environments using environmental science (or not) to inform their decisions. My interest is in how they do this decision-making, my funding is ostensibly to help them do it.

I am very interested in a couple of avenues of thought pertinent to this workshop. These are listed and described below in the context of addressing them at the workshop:

1) One exercise that I have done over the years with various groups -- from Forest Service scientists to UCD undergrads -- is to develop a conceptual model (a mind map) of how a system works. This conceptual model is the sketch from which subsequent analyses and experiments can be derived and is a common tool in environmental science. It looks like a diagram showing what processes and features are present in a system and how these interact with each other and are influenced. It is also an interesting translation process involving the intersection of values, sense of place, and technical information/knowledge/bias. The exercise could be to design a mind map of any natural or semi-natural process before and after discovering how the system worked from an expert or trusted source or before and after artificially taking on a defensive bias for a particular outcome. In the first case, the group could get a cursory explanation of the problem and basic information available and then design the conceptual model. Then they could receive a more detailed discussion of how the system works, including maybe seeing it for themselves on a hike and re-design the model. In the second case, a similar development of an initial conceptual model could take place, followed by group members being given a persona from which they make biased contributions to a new conceptual model. This could be with or without a more extensive description of how the system works. Each model could be used as the basis for separate fuzzy logic based GIS analyses (on site) and the products compared (cursory comparison on-site, more formal comparison later). The system studied could be one as familiar as "where should we put an urban park" to "where is grazing impacting the White Mountains" or "where could various land-uses be placed in the White Mountains". With just the conceptual model component, the initial models could be compared to the later "informed" and "biased" versions.

2) Another exercise is to address perceptual and scale issues common to stakeholder-based and expert-based decision environments. A common issue or problem is how to translate back and forth among media and experiences used in environmental science and management decision-making. At one end of this artificial perceptual scale is the direct human experience -- the biological, sensory, unconscious, non-deliberative interaction between people and natural environment. At this end, people love nature, want to use something in it or from it, study it in the field, or see problems to be actively managed. At the other end of the artificial perceptual scale is the very mediated experience that comes with aerial photogrpahs, computer models, spatial data, and technical reports. At this end, people make regional analyses and management decisions, model runoff and uses, and calculate how much they can use of nature. The exercise would be to have people engage in each end of the perceptual scale and contrast the types of decisions and perceptions they have in each environment. Because it would be best to do both ends of the scale on the same basic place, there would be bias generated by having one way done first. I would prefer people to see the very mediated version first, then to go outside and walk around to see in person what they had only seen represented with a coding system. One idea would be to put up a GIS of the region and ask people to decide which areas should be placed into different land-use categories -- residential, water supply, wildlife area, logging/grazing/mining to supply our basic Western society needs. Then two days later they could go on a 2-5 mile hike of the areas and record any change in perception when confronted with the place and how they could see resolution of any conflicts across these perceptual scales. This perceptual modeling approach is at the cutting edge of wildlife habitat rating and land-use decision-making, but lacks a grounding in the impacts of human perception on the choices made.

3) Something I have become interested more recently is the role of transportation/urban infrastructure-derived sound and its effects on animal behavior and persistence. The impact of human-caused (e.g., automobile) sound is measurable in various birds at under 60 db, which is the level of a normal conversation, or standing 14 mile away from a freeway. A majority (>50%) of the Western US is exposed to intermittent or continuous noise in this range, though we don't know exactly how much. One thing we are trying to figure out in the nascent field of acoustic ecology is how to conceptualize (again that conceptual model), measure, and model the interaction between animals and their acoustic environment, and how this disturbance/information plays a role in their perceptual interactions with landscapes over time.

SELECT PUBLICATIONS/PROJECTS Shilling, F., S. Sommarstrom, R. Kattelmann, B. Washburn, J. Florsheim, and R. Henly. California Watershed Assessment Manual. August, 2004. Prepared for the California Resources Agency.

2005 Grant from the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District ($25,000) to investigate fishing and fish consumption behavior on the Sacramento River and methods for recruiting input from impacted communities.

2005 2007 Grant from The River Project ($50,000) to provide GIS modeling and expert input into the development of the Tujunga Wash Watershed Management Plan. Funds from the CALFED Watershed Program.