Stephen Elser

Environmental Scientist

While I'm generally interested in all of ecology, I am more specifically interested in the connections between society and the environment. These interests include policy, recreational uses of ecosystems, and how humans affect the function of natural systems. These passions have brought me to Arizona State University, where I am an Environmental Life Sciences PhD student and a graduate fellow in the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN).

My research has taken me to a wide variety of interesting ecosystems, including riparian zones along the San Pedro River in Arizona, the lakes of the Northwoods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the National Bison Range in Montana,  the Illinois River Watershed in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and now: urban wetlands in Valdivia, Chile.


 One portion of the Angachilla wetlands. Wetlands are thoroughly entrenched in the Valdivia, and are often found in the middle of neighborhoods, as seen above.

One portion of the Angachilla wetlands. Wetlands are thoroughly entrenched in the Valdivia, and are often found in the middle of neighborhoods, as seen above.

My research in Valdivia, Chile is funded by the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Research and Innovation Fellowship. In this project, I am trying to better understand the ecosystem services provided by the urban wetlands in Valdivia through a combination of field work and household surveys. My field work is focused on quantifying the nutrient retention and carbon storage capacity of the wetlands, while the surveys are focused on cultural and provisioning services as well as identifying the general perceptions that Valdivians have about the wetlands. I hope to do similar research in wetlands in some of the other cities in the UREx SRN and compare services across cities. 

 Scenic River Joint Study. Shown here are Pleurocerid snails grazing an algae covered rock.

Scenic River Joint Study. Shown here are Pleurocerid snails grazing an algae covered rock.

The Scenic Rivers Joint Study (SRJS) is a two year study with the goal of determining the Total Phosphorus level at which significant changes in algae occur, resulting in either undesirable water quality or aesthetic conditions in designated scenic rivers near the Oklahoma/Arkansas border. My duties in the field include collecting water and macroinvertebrate samples. In the lab, most of my time is spent identifying the macrointertebrates we collected in the field, but I also filter water, extract and run chlorophyll-a samples, calculate ash-free dry mass, as well as enter and organize data. 

 UNDERC-West. A large grasshopper with the cages for my project displayed in the background.

UNDERC-West. A large grasshopper with the cages for my project displayed in the background.

My project at the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC)-West was about the impacts of nitrogen and water availability on grasshopper herbivory. I am currently working on the manuscript for this research, and am hoping to submit for publication soon.