Amber Manfree lauded for 'highly original' dissertation

Amber Manfree of the Center for Watershed Sciences on Wednesday (May 27) will be awarded the Kinsella Memorial Prize for her dissertation on the changing landscape of Suisun Marsh, a vast wetland in the San Francisco Estuary important for fish and water birds.

The annual UC Davis award recognizes the most outstanding doctoral dissertation in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, where Manfree studied under Peter Moyle, a distinguished professor of fish biology.

Manfree, who earned her PhD in geography last summer, drew from multiple disciplines in documenting the changes to the Marsh over centuries, from the shifts in human and animal populations during the Spanish and Mexican eras to agricultural development to its current management by duck hunting clubs.

“My work draws from the historical record to establish the place that is Suisun Marsh, informing future management and ensuring that this landscape is valued not simply for the services it provides today, but for the full breadth of its dynamic nature,” Manfree said in a statement prepared for the award ceremony.

Members of the award selection committee called Manfree’s research “highly original” – particularly her use of mapping software for visualizing biogeographic data – and praised her collaboration with scientists from multiple disciplines.

“Where many of the others (dissertations) were a more natural progression of research experience and opportunities, this study almost created something out of nothing – creating ‘new age’ maps that could have great importance to several fields from harvesting data from many different sources,” said one judge, whom the college dean, Helene Dillard, quoted anonymously in a letter announcing the winner.

Manfree, a native of Napa County, is a postdoctoral researcher with the center who co-edited the 2014 book, “Suisun Marsh: Ecological History and Possible Futures.” 

Wednesday’s award ceremony is scheduled for 3:30 pm in the Multipurpose Room of the Student Community Center on campus. Reservations requested.