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SULI Program: Joseph Famularo

Recent graduate contributes to aquatic habitat restoration efforts


Joseph Famularo

In the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Joseph Famularo used data collected through a backpack mapping system to create high-resolution habitat suitability models.

After fly-fishing with his grandpa in Montana’s mountain streams as a child, Joseph Famularo was hooked on gaining a better understanding of these ecosystems. This interest led him to study water resources, policy and management as an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech.

“I love streams. I love fish. I love fishing in streams,” Famularo said. “I couldn’t go wrong pursuing this type of research.”

Encouraged by a faculty member at Virginia Tech, Famularo applied to the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Once accepted, Famularo researched alongside Ryan McManamay, Ph.D., to create a high-resolution microhabitat suitability model (MHSM) from data collected through a geospatially autonomous backpack mapping system. This research contributed to the broader Biological Monitoring and Abatement Program. Its mission is restoration, remediation and monitoring of ecosystems bearing the historical impacts of Department of Energy activities and industrialization.

The team layered the MHSM model over a species distribution model to emphasize both landscape and reach scale impacts on the habitat suitability of a threatened fish, the Tennessee Dace.

“The purpose of this research was to develop a method for prioritizing restoration for particular fish, among several streams, based on landscape and reach scale suitability,” Famularo said. “Restoration efforts often don’t consider both of these spatial scales in their planning processes, leading to project failure.”

Essentially, this method allows for a more holistic comparison of stream restoration candidates, with the hopes of improving the planning process and project success rates. During the experience, Famularo was exposed to new concepts as well as potential career paths.

“I am much more interested in a federal career now, particularly with the U.S. Department of Energy,” Famularo said. “I was able to observe the people working around me and gauge what academic credentials I would need to see my goals realized.”

After his recent research experience, Famularo started a graduate program in biology at Virginia Commonwealth University where he plans to conduct research on urban stream nutrient cycling within the Richmond metropolitan area.

The SULI program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) and is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), managed by ORAU.