Elizabeth May Chair in Environmental Health and Sustainability Candidate Research Talk: Dr. Ariel Greiner

Dr. Ariel Greiner
Postdoctoral Fellow
Pennsylvania State University and the University of Oxford

Title: Using Mathematical Models to Inform Management Practices in Coral Reefs and Beyond

Abstract: In this talk I will discuss how I use mathematical modelling techniques and decision theory approaches to improve management practices and answer important fundamental ecological and epidemiological questions. My focus is on increasing our understanding of aspects of systems whose impacts are hard to conceptualize without the use of models, such as those that operate at large spatial and temporal scales, but which are necessary to understand to properly manage the system. Models can then help us generate hypotheses about how these aspects might impact the dynamics of these systems and decision theory can help us understand (1) which of these aspects are necessary to understand to make informed management decisions and (2) what an optimal management method is for such a system. I conceptualize these models alongside collaborators inside and outside academia to ensure that the questions I am asking help shape conservation, sustainability and health policy around the world while also answering fundamental questions that improve our understanding of the processes that shape ecosystems and impact disease transmission. I use this approach across systems, from coral reefs in Fiji to foot and mouth disease in cattle farms in Turkey. My coral research focuses on understanding how coral larval dispersal may impact local coral reef dynamics and how larval dispersal networks may change over time and asks how both of those things affect coral reef management planning. Through this research, I show that it is useful to conserve reefs as reef networks as I find that dispersal connections among reefs influence their dynamics. I also find that connectivity can both help and hinder reef management and that effective management on a few reefs can help the wider reef network. My foot and mouth disease (FMD) research focuses on designing an optimal surveillance method for FMD outbreaks in countries where FMD is endemic. This research finds that surveillance methods that use spatial information or the cattle transport network find 2-5x more outbreaks than uninformed surveillance methods. Overall, this work shows the relevance of understanding large spatial scale networks when designing management plans and provides rapid insight as to how best to manage critically endangered ecosystems and important disease systems.

Bio: My scientific research program is focused on increasing societal well-being through developing socio-ecological mathematical models of ecosystems to improve global conservation and sustainability and disease management initiatives. My goal as a scientist is to find win-win solutions for global ecosystems and for the humans that rely on these ecosystems. I do this through assessing management initiatives in mathematical models of real ecosystems that I design alongside local conservation experts and public health experts. I develop these models in collaboration with conservation/health experts working on the ground in these systems and also with other academics to ensure that the questions they answer increase our general understanding/knowledge of these systems as well as inform management practices. I have also consistently worked towards increasing equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in science to ensure that all feel empowered to participate in the environmental sciences as I believe that this is necessary to find equitable solutions to our current global crises. 

I am currently a postdoc with the Shea and Ferrari labs at Pennsylvania State University and with the MCEM lab at the University of Oxford modelling Foot and Mouth disease dynamics and coral reef dynamics to inform management strategies. My PhD at the University of Toronto (with the KrkoŇ°ek, Fortin and Darling labs) focused on modelling coral reef larval dispersal networks to determine how larval dispersal among reefs might change the stability of the coral-dominated state and to delineate present-day larval dispersal networks and assess the capacity of natural re-seeding to re-seed present-day reef networks. This work was deemed Canadian National Champion at the Inaugural Frontiers Planet Prize competition in 2023. My final chapter was in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society of Fiji, modelling a Fijian reef network and assessing the efficacy of various different management strategies. I have also worked on projects modelling SARS CoV-2 dynamics in Canada, assessing human impacts on worldwide genetic diversity, determining pigeons capacity to learn efficient routes in travelling salesman (or salespigeon) problems and writing guidelines for graduate students working with mathematical models for the first time.

Personal website: http://www.arielgreiner.com/




Milligan Room, 8th Floor Biology-Earth Sciences Wing, Life Sciences Centre, Dalhousie University