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Clemson University
college of agriculture, forestry and life sciences clemson university

Christopher Pettengill

Graduate Research Assistant
Forestry and Environmental Conservation Department




Educational Background

M.S. Biological Sciences
University of Alabama 2022

B.S. Environmental Science and Ecology
SUNY Brockport 2019


Christopher Pettengill is a PhD research assistant working out of Dr. James T. Anderson’s lab at The Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, though he is currently attending classes at Clemson University. His research focus encompasses the community ecology, ecosystem functions and services of wetlands, including how these may change in response to ecosystem disturbance. He is always excited to contact stakeholders that use wetlands for recreation or ecosystem services such as water filtration. Christopher’s philosophy is that wetland conservation relies on a positive public perception of these ecosystems.

Ecology has always been a significant part of Christopher’s life. This started from his appreciation for the diversity of different habitat types located near where he lived (forests, ponds, streams, fields), which he enjoyed exploring. These early experiences helped to shape his research goals in ecology and environmental issues. Over time, he has developed a strong interest in ecosystem services and how habitat restoration can help improve these services.

While working towards his bachelor's degree at SUNY Brockport (Rochester, New York), Christopher was introduced to the world of wetland ecology and was quickly enthralled by these unique ecosystems. In addition to taking classes, he also conducted an independent research project where he attempted to find a relationship between stream macroinvertebrate diversity and the diversity of riparian vegetation.

At the University of Alabama where he obtained his master’s degree in Biological Sciences, he conducted a study on the impacts of beaver dam removal from ponds across a range of successional states in Talladega National Forest (Moundville, Alabama). Christopher found that although dam removal did not significantly alter the invertebrate community diversity, seasonal differences between samples were sometimes very significant. The most surprising conclusion of the experiment was how functional trait diversity, particularly the proportions of different functional feeding groups, remained consistent across time. What makes this surprising is that samples from later in the experiment had a significantly lower abundance of all invertebrates, but proportionally rare functional groups persisted.

Outside of his own projects, Christopher also assisted researchers working on projects in fire-suppression and on hemlock wooly-adelgid impacts on Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) in western New York. Additionally, for many years he served as a volunteer for a local herbarium in Rochester, New York, where he learned about both plant identification and specimen preparation. His volunteer work at the herbarium also introduced me to horticulture. Christopher hopes to one day put that knowledge to use and construct a garden or raised beds when he own a home.

Starting in the summer of 2023, Christopher will be working with Dr. Anderson to improve methods of assessing restoration success in a saltmarsh ecosystem. Christopher and Dr. Anderson are interested in studying how the inclusion of oyster beds in the restoration design will improve ecosystem services at the site. Additionally, they will be looking at any potential larger, regional-scale impacts of restoring the site’s ecosystem functioning. Christopher predicts that more saltwater organisms will enter the newly created habitats after they remove barriers to the site.

Salt marshes are an environment that Christopher has long wished to study, starting from a young age when he took part in summer marine science education camps at Wallop’s Island, Virginia. Christopher believes the conservation of salt marshes is very important, since they provide many services that benefit humans living in coastal areas (storm-surge protection, nurseries for sportfish, carbon storage) and help to combat the effects of climate change. Christopher welcomes the opportunity to be a participant in a larger coastal habitat restoration effort. He will be posting pictures of what he finds at the restoration site when he can’t record the observations in his data sheets, such as for marine mammals, reptiles, and other organisms. Christopher is looking forward to the challenges and experiences that await at Edisto Island!

In his spare time, Christopher enjoys hiking, fishing, kayaking, and travelling.

Research Interests

I have multiple research interests centering around the biological sciences, particularly restoration ecology of aquatic habitats. I enjoy working with multiple taxonomic groups, from fish and invertebrates to plants. My research projects have dealt with human habitat alteration, water quality, and biological communities.

My current project involves assessing the ecosystem services provided by oysters at a set of saltwater impoundments in Little Edisto, South Carolina. I am surveying multiple taxonomic groups at the site (birds, invertebrates, fish, plants) and taking environmental data on water quality. My hypothesis is that oyster presence at the site will reduce nutrient (phosphorus and nitrogen) loads at the site, while also providing valuable habitat structures for other organisms in each impoundment.

College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences
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