Professor & Associate Director, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Associate Dean, College of the Environment
University of Washington
Dr. Julia Parrish calls herself an unintentional polymath – interested in everything, living her work, ever unable to decide to focus in on just one issue or approach. Her interests follow three major routes: behavior of organisms living in groups, seabird ecology, and marine conservation.
Dr. Parrish is interested in why individuals live in groups, and how gregarious organisms maintain group structure in the face of constantly changing conditions - a traffic rule question. To address the latter, she has built a fish film studio to collect digital video images of schooling fish. With these data, a team of biologists and engineers conducts experiments to sleuth out how fish school and test the limits of the schooling strategy.
For the past 15 years Dr. Parrish has spent the spring and summer months working on the densest-nesting seabird in the world, the common murre. From blinds and cliff-side perches, she and her team monitor colony size and chick production, record behavioral interactions between resident species(mainly bald eagles, murres, and gulls), and collect a database of foraging effort. They use these data to predict nearshore system health, compare and contrast bottom-up versus top-down impacts, and design behaviorally intelligent conservation strategies.
Dr. Parrish's conservation work is a patchwork of projects and programs designed to find workable solutions to environmental problems in the marine systems of the Northwest U.S. At present she is involved in two exciting programs: The first is an attempt to discover the extent to which avian predators impact salmon populations in the Columbia River, and then work to find win-win conservation strategies to weaken this predator-prey linkage.
The second is a citizen science program: the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST). COASST is a network of 300-plus volunteers at more than 150 sites throughout the Pacific Northwest who collectively monitor beachcast carcasses of marine birds. Data are used for basic science, natural resource management, and public education and involvement.