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  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Natural Resources and the Environment
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
Dan Katz (he/him), assistant professor, School of Integrative Plant Science

Academic focus:

Plant ecology and environmental health.

Research summary:

My goal is to generate the ecological knowledge necessary to address plant-related public health problems. Much of my research centers on allergenic pollen, from creating better forecasts to understanding and reducing the effects of pollen on human health. Another topic I’m working on is how trees can best be used to keep cities cool during heat waves and reduce heat-related emergency department visits. My research approaches include measuring ecological processes using field studies, scaling from individual plants to landscapes with remote sensing, combining these into spatial models related to ecosystem services and disservices, and analyzing associated health outcomes.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I keep active! Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and biking. Otherwise, you can find me spending time with friends and family, foraging, and cooking.

What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?

Curious, kind, thoughtful.

What (specifically) brought you to Cornell CALS?

There couldn’t be a better spot for me than Cornell! I’ve been impressed by the breadth of research done here and by the commitment to working across disciplines to solve pressing real-world problems. Plus, I’m a native Ithacan, and I’m thrilled to be back in my hometown!

What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?

People often think about nature as being something you find outside of cities, but the truth is that we share our spaces and lives with a diverse assemblage of organisms. We interact closely with these organisms – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively – and these interactions are influenced by policy and management decisions. Informed decisions require an understanding of both the human and natural dimensions of these systems, and there’s so much more we need to learn.

Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?

I grew up loving the outdoors. I spent years working on various ecological research projects and did my dissertation on the effects of climate change on temperate forests, specifically studying range expansion dynamics. Once I realized that my ecological training could be applied to today’s public health problems, I started a project drawing from both fields and have been working at their intersection ever since.

If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve?

There are so many deserving ideas! One problem I’d love to tackle is figuring out how to optimize the positive interactions people have with urban trees while minimizing the negative interactions. To do this well, we’ll need to use remote sensing to create comprehensive maps of what trees are where and develop spatio-temporal models of ecosystem services and disservices based on individual trees. Ultimately, this would inform tree-related decision making and make our cities better places to live.

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