I think therefore I PRESERVE
Meet Professor Margaret Carreiro
If a tree falls in the woods, does Prof. Carreiro hear it? Yes, she probably does. And that's a good thing for all of us! Prof. Carreiro specializes in urban and suburban ecology, and she has spent a large part of her career assisting cities in maintaining and often saving their urban forests. Not only does she perform academic research to understand ecological processes at work in urban environments, but she also takes a broader approach by applying her knowledge and collaborating with colleagues both inside and outside of the University to improve the quality of life for the community at large.
Prof. Carreiro tells us who inspires her and how she became a suburban ecology superstar.
Years at UofL: 15
Degree: Ph.D. University of Rhode Island, 1989
Research Focus: My research is on the ecology of cities and towns, and how people affect and are affected by nature in the places where we live. I focus on the responses of vegetation, soils and ecosystem processes to urban and suburban landscapes, and invasive species ecology.
I am also interested in sustainable cities research and in working with social science researchers, urban decision-makers, environmental managers and other practitioners to understand how green infrastructure and green space conservation and management can be improved to make cities and suburbs more resilient to environmental perturbations, and healthier, more pleasing places for people to live in.
What was the most memorable class you took as an undergrad? Why? Field Botany. We were taken to locations like salt marshes, the rocky marine coast of Maine, and Cape Cod sand dunes that I had never experienced growing up in a densely populated city. The diversity of plants and wildlife was a revelation and I knew instantly that learning more about the ecology of our lands and their past would be my passion even if I was not to earn a living doing this. But ultimately, I was fortunate enough to do so!
What is the biggest achievement in your career thus far? In basic ecology, discovering how atmospheric deposition of nitrogen compounds from fossil fuel combustion and other sources radically changes enzymes produced by fungi responsible for breaking down and recycling dead woody plant materials in forests. This changes the carbon cycle in forest ecosystems, which is of interest to those modeling the capacity of forests to sequester carbon in locations subject to nitrogen pollution.
In applied ecology, working together with the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy to understand the ecological responses of their different management approaches so they can better sustain native plants and animals in our city's woodlands for future generations.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Who are they and how did they influence you? Of course, my parents were deeply influential. They taught me to persevere during hard times to reach long-term goals, and to treat all people with openness and respect. My father's curiosity about the world was infectious, even though he only had a third grade education in a foreign country. And did I mention the joy of gardens and working the soil? For that I thank both my mother and father.
In terms of my profession, Dr. Wes Tiffney, former professor at Boston University, who took us on those field trips and opened my eyes to reading the ecological history written in the landscape. I remember him with gratitude.
What was the last book you read? Why did you pick it up? “An Unnecessary Woman” by Rabih Alameddine. I heard an interview with him on the radio and was fascinated by the topic. How often do you read a book where a 72-year-old woman is the protagonist? I was fascinated discovering the decades of change in Beirut, Lebanon through this single woman's eyes and contemplating her difficult life, so different from my own life of privilege. I don't think Aaliya, the protagonist in the novel, will ever entirely leave me.
Claim to Fame: Saving Louisville’s Urban Forests
I view education and outreach activities as a vital civic role for scientists, and am particularly interested in communicating scientific research findings to environmental managers, educators, and the public in order to improve our collective understanding of the value of natural “capital” and the contribution of nature’s ecological services to societal sustainability and resiliency to environmental perturbations.
I currently co-chair the Research and Inventory Committee of Louisville's Tree Board. Currently we are defining urban forest parameters that should be included for measurement in an Urban Forest Master Plan for the city. I am also a science advisor for the Cherokee Triangle Neighborhood Tree Committee, who has completed their own Street Tree Inventory and is about to embark on a Residential yard inventory for their neighborhood. I also co-chaired a subcommittee of the Louisville Climate Change Action Plan Task Force and wrote the Urban Forestry Section for the final report.
See Margaret Carreiro, PhD, in action: “Biomimicry - How Does Nature Inspire Technology?,” Thursday, May 7, 2015, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., University Club & Alumni Center.