Environmental dimensions of transportation systems

Photo of research team in field

Environmental dimensions of transportation systems

Highways are high stakes, multi-functional landscapes. They are also near ubiquitous - with over 75% of the continental US within 1km of a road. Critically, highways are designed and managed for the safe transit of people and products as their primary goals - yet a growing movement aims to use highway roadsides for ecological purposes. Highway roadsides are the current focus of my scholarship on environmental dimensions of transportation systems, which incorporates ecology, history, and cost-benefit analyses. We are interested in the interplay between policy, bureaucracy and animals at landscape scales - always in systems with human communities and often with a lens onto how environmental outcomes shape human health.  We use empirical fieldwork, GIS modeling, scenarios, case studies, and policy analysis as some of our tools. Yet one challenge of studying ecosystem health at scale is that it’s logistically impossible to do empirical, observational work that can cover broad landscapes over long timescales.  This is one reason we additionally incorporate ecoinformatics and computational approaches to understanding environmental change. Some of this work is available to read and cite on FigShare here.

Example publications:

  • Santangelo et al. (287 authors, including Kaitlin Stack Whitney and 5 RIT students). 2022. Global urban environmental change drives adaptation in white clover. Science 375 1275-1281.
  • Alyssa Schoenfeldt and Kaitlin Stack Whitney. 2022. Bumble Bee (Bombus spp.) Abundance in New York Highway Roadsides across Levels of Roadside Mowing and Road Traffic. Northeastern Naturalist. Vol 29 (1) 55-72. 
  • Kaitlin Stack Whitney. 2021. Wild Bee Conservation in North American Roadside Rights of Way. Chapter in Imperiled: The Encyclopedia of Conservation. Elsevier, Oxford.


Road ecology: roadsides (verge) as insect habitat

Dr. Stack Whitney is PI on a 3 year $225,000 grant from the University Transportation Research Council to examine the role of habitat management regulations in state agencies on beneficial insects and noxious plants. This project addresses a critical research need, to understand how highway management policies impact ecological function at state and continental scales. 

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Adaptive management of monarchs in roadsides

Dr. Stack Whitney is PI on a 2-year grant from the deCoizart trust, examining management of highway verges for monarch conservation in the northeastern flyway.

Critical examinations of ecosystem services

Photo of Dr. Kaitlin Stack Whitney Assistant waling through a crop field

Critical examinations of ecosystem service science

Environmental science is a human endeavor, shaped by individual and institutional structures, processes, and biases. Part of my research program centers on understanding how these factors shape contemporary ecosystem service sciences. I do this using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. My qualitative approach here is largely driven by feminist biology, a method that brings critical theory with an intersectional feminist lens, while my quantitative approach is largely informed by informatics.  Feminist biology is an approach to biology that explicitly acknowledges these historic and current biases at the micro- and macro-levels, from the naming of species, to prize awarding, to study methods. A truly feminist biology must not only address gender/sex though - an intersectional feminist biology is also anti-racist and anti-disablist.   SWEET is interested in environmental biology incorporating intersectional feminism, in particular bringing a critical eye to environmental projects that ignore (or the opposite - surveil) marginalized bodies.

Example publications:

Ableism and accessibility in biology and society

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Ableism and accessibility in biology and society

In fieldwork and informatics based work, SWEET is committed to inclusion, accessibility, and reproducibility. Yet while “openness” is now becoming more accepted in research fields as ‘best’ practice, it is not an inherently positive attribute or goal. Open science is an umbrella term that includes movements aimed at democratizing science, to make science available to "everyone. Yet there can be significant individual (e.g. cost) and structural (e.g. cultural context) barriers. I am part of the emerging subfield of open science studies that examines these structures and how they shape science. Open data and research must not benefit some at the expense of marginalized communities, particularly nonwhite, indigenous, and multiply-marginalized communities and their data. SWEET is committed to ongoing learning, research, and engagement in conversations on ethical open scholarship and critical open studies.  In particular, we focus on disability access and inclusion (or lack thereof) in open science.

Logo of open educational resources
Open educational resources

Dr. Stack Whitney is a current Open@RIT fellow and current 2022-2023 Provost Learning Innovation Grant recipient, with a project focused on open educational materials for introductory environmental humanities courses. She was previously a 2019-2020 EDSIN-QUBES Open Education Fellow, 2019 Mozilla Open Leader, and 2020 eLife Innovation Leaders mentor. She has also served as a mentor for other open networks and collaborations. Some of the previous OERs published are on the Publications page.

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Disability accessibility and representation in museums

Dr. Stack Whitney is PI on a 2022-2023 VPR seed funding project focused on disability accessibility for visitors and disability representation in biological and environmental museum content, specifically using ableism studies as a lens to explore these topics. 

Example publications:

  • Gabriela Serrato Marks, Caroline Solomon, Kaitlin Stack Whitney. 2021. Meeting frameworks must be even more inclusive. Invited commentary for Nature Ecology & Evolution
  • Richelle L. Tanner, Neena Grover, Michelle L Anderson, Katherine C Crocker, Shuchismita Dutta, Angela M Horner, Loren E Hough, Talia Y Moore, Gail L Rosen, Kaitlin Stack Whitney, Adam P Summers. 2021. Examining cultural structures and functions in biology. Integrative and Comparative Biology, icab140,
  • Samuel C Zipper, Kaitlin Stack Whitney, Jillian M Deines, Kevin M Befus, Udit Bhatia, Sam J Albers, Janice Beecher, Christa Brelsford, Margaret Garcia, Tom Gleeson, Frances O'Donnell, David Resnik, Edella Schlager. 2019. Balancing open science and data privacy in the water sciences. Water Resources Research. DOI: 10.1029/2019WR025080.