Ashley Sanders

What started out as a quick summer gig sieving soil for a graduate student’s project quickly turned into a dedicated interest in desert freshwater ecology. I am an undergraduate student majoring in Conservation Biology and Ecology and I credit the mentorship of several graduate students and post-docs in the Sabo Lab with the development of most of my personal and professional interests. From grinding up travertine to extracting tadpole intestines to filtering my first vial of water, they have welcomed me into their research and taught me about the entire process.

In addition to my work in the Sabo Lab, an equally important influence on my interests was the summer I spent as an REU student in Iceland. As we monitored the water and midges in Lake Myvatn, I became increasingly fascinated with where entomology and limnology meet. Witnessing what appeared to be billions of midges emerging from a lake at once changed my perspective on the influence that aquatic insects can have on the rest of the environment. It’s only when you have your entire face covered in flying insects that you can understand the power in numbers.

The following summer I was again an REU student for an eco-informatics research team in the HJ Andrews Forest in Oregon. We focused on mapping plant-pollinator interactions and using that data to model pollinator preferences. My sights then broadened to botany, systematics, and model-building, which continue to be my peripheral research interests.

Since then, I have been assisting graduate students and post-docs with data collection and processing in the Huachuca Mountains in Southern Arizona and even on a trip to Gamboa, Panama! I combined all the skills I picked up in the last 3 years to start an honors thesis project on the N and P contribution from aquatic insects to overall stream nutrient demand between two streams in the Huachucas. I am also a field and lab tech for the new food chain length project this year, where we’ll be monitoring 12 desert streams for the effects of different energy resources and flows on trophic structure. In the grander scheme of things, however, I am interested in figuring out why so much life is sustained in streams. As a desert rat, I have grown an appreciation for freshwater features because they are usually the most biologically distinct. And it doesn’t hurt that it makes for the most beautiful field work, too.

Among many, some of my personal interests include stand-up comedy, petting dogs in public, Tempe Indian buffets, stealing plants off the ASU campus, and finding a decent cup o joe.