Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Biology
San Diego State University
Heather Karnes-Schmalbach is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Ecology at San Diego State University. She completed her undergraduate work in 2002 at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Ecology and Systematic Biology with a concentration in Wildlife. This included a semester at Columbia University’s Biosphere 2 Center in Oracle, Arizona, where she conducted a field study on the effects of mesquite shrubs on the distribution of a non-native annual grass.
After graduating from Cal Poly, she spent six months as an environmental education intern at Zion National Park, Utah. The position was supported by the Student Conservation Association and Americorps. She worked with the resource management department to develop new signage on resource issues within the park and instigated educational outreach programs on native plants and cryptobiotic soil crusts.
Her current research is aimed at deciphering the effects of an area’s fire history on post-fire plant community recovery, particularly in chaparral. The study site is located at Sky Oaks Field Station, in Northern San Diego County, which is one of several permanent research stations managed by the Field Stations Program at SDSU. She is monitoring plant community recovery in two different stands of vegetation that were both completely consumed by the Coyote Fire in July 2003.
She also works for PISCES (Partnerships Involving the Scientific Community and Elementary Schools), which pairs graduate students in the sciences with local elementary school teachers to teach hands-on, inquiry-based science lessons.