Dani Davis


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    florida state university

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    I’m a sandy beach ecologist interested in understanding the drivers of diversity in beach natural communities and how the biotic and abiotic factors of these habitats work together to create the shoreline ecosystem. Lately I’ve been diving into nutrient dynamics on the beach, which are typically very low nutrient environments. Seagrasses and algae are brought in with the tides from nearby, marine ecosystems and deposited on the beach. Wrack has been shown to be a critical food source for small invertebrates living in the sand, and attracts shorebirds to eat these insects and crustaceans. The wrack could also be a key source of nutrients for plants as well, acting like a fertilizer to help plants establish and grow. These beach plants then help to form the dunes that protect our coastlines for hurricanes and storm surges. I’m investigating the links between wrack and plant growth and development to help inform beach managers and restorationists on how best to protect our shoreline ecosystems. This knowledge is especially important because wrack is often viewed as a nuisance and is removed from many shorelines around the world to make beaches more attractive to tourists. In the face of climate change and sea-level rise, understanding dune formation and plant growth is critical to protecting our coastal cities and towns, as well as the habitats and their flora and fauna. If wrack is as critical to plant establishment and dune formation and stabilization as it is hypothesized to be, then this resource needs to be kept on the beaches. In addition to my research interests, I’m also working on art and a short film to teach beach-goers about the importance and wonder of wrack!

  • Profile Question 1
    Can you describe your attitude toward science when you were in high school?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    As a child I was deeply interested in the natural world. I kept terrariums, flipped over rocks, and explored the woods and creeks near my home. But by the time high school came, I had abandoned my love of the natural world. This happened for a lot of reasons, partly because none of my friends were into science and partly because I didn’t think that I was smart enough to be a scientist. As a first-generation student, academics weren’t the most important thing in my household. I never went to science camps or did extracurriculars, so I thought that I didn’t belong with the “science kids”, that I wasn’t smart enough to do the things they did. By the time my senior year came around, I was convinced that I was going to go to art school, study painting, and become a full-time artist. Instead, much to the chagrin of my high school counselors and teachers, I opted to move out west rather than go to college. A few years among the desert and mountains rekindled my love of the natural world and prompted me to go to college. And now here I am, still doing art but as an ecologist.

  • Profile Question 2
    Do you have advice for students about preparing for a science career?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    There is no right way to be a scientist. I can't emphasize that enough. After high school, I took three gap years, was told I'd never make it to college, had lousy standardized test scores, and didn't even go to a college with an ecology program, and yet here I am as an ecology graduate student. I was taught early on always to follow my passions and let them lead the way, and I think that this single piece of advice is what has carried me to where I am today. That led me to get involved with various conservation organizations, take internships and volunteer positions, and meet some incredible people who shared my passions. I believe the reason I’m in graduate school now is because of internships and a naturalist job I held through college. You never know where accepting opportunities and networking will take you; it could radically change our life.

    As you're in the process of finding your path in the sciences, identify those things that you're genuinely passionate about and look for opportunities to volunteer, intern, or meet the people working in those areas. Volunteer positions and internships can give you practical skills that you may not learn in classes and network with like-minded individuals who can help you in your career path. Look for these opportunities and take them when they come your way. And never be afraid to reach out to someone doing the work you want to do; it never hurts to send an email, and, chances are, the person will be thrilled to hear that someone else is excited about their work. Preparing for a science career isn’t easy, but if you’re following your passions and doing the things you love, it’ll make your path into the sciences incredibly fulfilling and rewarding.

  • Profile Question 3
    What is your favorite plant? Why?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    Sarracenia purpurea, the purple pitcher plant, is definitely my favorite plant. S. purpurea grows in bogs, these incredibly diverse habitats with all sorts of other amazing plants and animals in its community, so it’s always a joy to go look for them. It’s carnivorous, taking the nitrogen it needs from insects rather than the soil like most plants, so that already makes it super cool. But it doesn’t just digest its bug prey on its own, that would be too simple. Instead, S. purpurea houses a complex community within each and every pitcher, which are just modified leaves. These communities are comprised of a host of different bacteria, microbes, and small invertebrates, many of which are only found in the leaves of S. purpurea and nowhere else in nature. The communities are so tightly linked, that the same species found in the leaves of Florida S. purpurea are also found in the Canadian S. purpurea. It’s still debated on why that is, but it’s clear that the plant depends on this community to break down the insect prey into usable nitrogen by the plant. It’s a community of organisms within a larger community of organisms, all evolving and living together, each essential to the overall function of the whole. It’s mind blowing. Oh, and the plants are also really pretty. The flower they produce in the springtime is stunning.

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?

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