Alison O’Dowd, Ph.D.

Associate Professor - Ecological Restoration

My teaching and research interests include environmental science, ecological restoration and aquatic ecology. I teach courses from the freshman-level through graduate students and work hard to get to know my students and help them reach their academic and career goals. My research primarily involves the use of benthic macroinvertebrates and fish to explore topics related to stream and wetland restoration, invasive species, wildfire, and step-pool sequences in steep, mountain streams.

I am thrilled to teach and conduct research in the fascinating and diverse ecological environment of the California North Coast. Environmental issues are definitely at the forefront of people’s minds in this area and students are passionate about improving ecosystems and repairing nature.

Specialty Area

Ecological Restoration, Aquatic Ecology


I teach courses in environmental science and ecological restoration. These courses investigate ways to understand and address anthropogenic impacts and disturbances on ecosystems. I try to promote a learning atmosphere that allows students to interact with the natural environment and learn structural and functional processes first-hand. Therefore, I try to get my students outside and interacting with the environment as often as possible so they can fully experience the topic.

Courses Taught

SCI 100 - Being a STEM Professional in the 21st Century
ESM 230 - Environmental Methods
ESM 303 - Applied Natural History & Ecology
ESM 355 - Principles of Ecological Restoration
ESM 455 - Applied Ecological Restoration


My research interests are within the areas of aquatic ecology and ecological restoration. Specifically I study stream and wetland restoration, the ecology and eradication of invasive species, the impacts of wildfire on stream communities, and the biological significance of step-pool sequences in mountain streams. My research methods focus on using benthic macroinvertebrates as indicators of water quality in urban and natural freshwater ecosystems.  I conduct much of my research through Humboldt State University’s River Institute

More specifically my research explores how biological stream communities respond to disturbance within a watershed. My bioassessment research uses benthic macroinvertebrates as indicators of water quality to develop indices for the management of water bodies. One of my research projects examined ways to analyze long-term bioassessment data for the Lake Tahoe Basin. Another project compared urban gradients and aquatic biological indicators of urbanization in three climatic regions of the United States: San Jose, CA (west coast); Baltimore, MD (Mid-Atlantic); and Cleveland, OH (Midwest). The biological indicators of urbanization developed for these three regions were intended to help water agencies prioritize restoration and conservation efforts in urban watersheds. My research has also involved several post- project assessments of urban stream restoration projects in the San Francisco Bay Area in order to evaluate their success. These assessments included biological, habitat, and sociological assessments of several urban stream restoration projects to determine the condition of each site over time.

I am interested in the ecological significance of mountain step-pool streams. I am collaborating with a professor at the University of Colorado, Denver to compare biological communities in step-pool streams of northern California (Smith River) and Colorado.  We are also examining the bio-physical impacts of wildfire on high-gradient mountain streams.

Some of my research at Humboldt State University involves wetland ecosystems. My graduate students are exploring research questions related to an invasive non-native plant species (Spartina densiflora) in the salt marshes of Humboldt Bay.

Prospective Graduate Students

If your research interests are in the areas of stream ecology, bioassessment, or restoration ecology, and you are interested in working on a thesis (developing research questions and hypotheses, collecting and statistically analyzing the data), and you will work to publish your research results in a journal, here are some things you should know and some steps you should take.

Understand that space is limited and competition can be strong. I generally accept only one to two new graduate students each year. If you are interested in working with me, I strongly encourage you to do two things: 1) send me an email stating why you are a good fit for my lab, a summary of your research-related experience (if any), and what topic/area you would like to explore for your Masters thesis (this can be broad or specific); 2) if at all possible, visit campus and meetwith me in person.

Look over my current and former graduate students' research descriptions below to see the types of projects students that work with me pursue.

Current Graduate Students

Name Thesis
Thomas Starkey-Owens
Lara Jansen
Monique Silva Crossman


Kinoshita, A.M., A. Chin, G.L. Simon, C. Briles, T.S. Hogue, A.P. O’Dowd, A.K. Gerlak, and A.U. Albornoz.  2016. Wildfire, Water, and Society: Toward Integrative Research in the “Anthropocene.” Anthropocene. 16:16-27.

O’Dowd, A. P. and A. Chin. 2016. Do bio-physical attributes of steps and pools differ in high-gradient mountain streams? Hydrobiologia. DOI: 10.1007/s10750-016-2735-5

O’Dowd, A.P., W. Trush, D. Colvin, R. Lavery, D. Ichien, and O. Abi-Chahine. 2014. Annual hydrograph assessment for steelhead migration in the Santa Ynez River. Report for the National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chin A., O’Dowd A.P., and Gregory K.J. 2013. Urbanization and River Channels. In: John F. Shroder (ed.) Treatise on Geomorphology, Volume 9, pp. 809-827. San Diego: Academic Press.

Resh, V.H., L. Beche, J. Lawrence, R. Mazor, E.P. McElravy, A.P. O’Dowd, and S. Carlson. 2013. Long-term patterns in fish and benthic macroinvertebrates in northern California mediterranean-climate streams. Hydrobiologia 719(1):93-111. DOI: 10.1007/s10750-012-1373-9

O’Dowd, A.P., A. Stubblefield. 2013. Stream condition assessment of the Lake Tahoe Basin in 2009 and 2010 using the river invertebrate prediction and classification system (RIVPACS). Prepared for the Bureau of Land Management and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Report P079.

O’Dowd, A.P. 2011. Encouraging salmon recovery and restoring ecosystem function. California Forests Magazine 15(2):14-15.

O’Dowd (Purcell), A. P. 2011. Encouraging salmon recovery and restoring ecosystem function. California Forests Magazine 15(2):14-15.

Roy, A.H., A. H. Purcell, C. J. Walsh, and S. J. Wenger. 2009. Advances in urban stream ecology: an introduction to the series. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 28(4):908-910.

Carter, J. L., A. H. Purcell, S. V. Fend, and V. H. Resh. 2009. Development of a local-scale urban stream assessment method using benthic macroinvertebrates: an example from the Santa Clara Basin, California. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 28(4):1007-1021.

Wenger, S. J., A. H. Roy, C. R. Jackson, E. S. Bernhardt, T. L Carter, S. Filoso, C. A. Gibson, N. B. Grimm, W. C. Hession, S. S. Kaushal, E. Martí, J. L. Meyer, M. A. Palmer, M. J. Paul, A. H. Purcell, A. Ramirez, A. D. Rosemond, K. A. Schofield, E. Sudduth, and C. J. Walsh. 2009. Twenty-six key research questions in urban stream ecology: an assessment of the state of the science. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 28(4):1080-1098.

Chin, A., A. H. Purcell, J. Quan, and V.H. Resh. 2009. Assessing geomorphological and ecological responses in restored step-pool systems. In James, L.A., S.L. Rathburn, and G.R. Whittcar (eds.). Management and Restoration of Fluvial Systems with Broad Historical Changes and Human Impacts: Geological Society of America Special Paper 451, p. 199-217.

Bressler, D. W., M. J. Paul, A. H. Purcell, M. T. Barbour, E. Rankin, and V. H. Resh. 2009. Assessment tools for urban catchments: developing stressor gradients. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 45(2):291-305.

Purcell, A. H., D. W. Bressler, M. J. Paul, M. T. Barbour, E. Rankin, J. L. Carter, and V. H. Resh. 2009. Assessment tools for urban catchments: developing biological indicators using benthic macroinvertebrates. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 45(2):306- 319.

Paul, M. J., D. W. Bressler, A. H. Purcell, M. T. Barbour, E. Rankin, and V. H. Resh. 2009. Assessment tools for urban catchments: defining observable biological potential. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 45(2):320-330.

Mazor, R., A. H. Purcell, and V. H. Resh. 2009. Long-term variability in benthic macroinvertebrate bioassessments: A 20-year study from two northern Californian streams. Environmental Management 43:1269-1286.

Chin, A., S. Anerson, A. Collison, E. Ellis-Sugai, J.P. Haltiner, J.B. Hogervorst, G.M. Kondolf, L.S. O’Hirok, A.H. Purcell, A.L. Riley, and E. Wohl. 2009. Linking theory and practice for restoration of step-pool streams. Environmental Management 43:645-661.

Purcell, A. H., A. Hoffmann, and V. H. Resh. 2008. Life history of a dipteran predator (Scathophagidae: Acanthocnema) of insect egg masses in a northern California stream. Freshwater Biology 53:2426-2437.

Presentations & Posters

(*indicates graduate or undergraduate student co-author)

O’Dowd, A.P. and A. Chin. 2014. “Do bio-physical attributes of steps and pools differ in high gradient mountain streams?”  Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting. Portland, OR.

Valasco, K.Z.*, P.K. Mendez, A.P. O’Dowd, R. Leventhal, and A. Chin. 2014. “Benthic macroinvertebrate community response of self-organizing step-pool restoration in Wildcat Creek (Alameda Co., CA, USA).” Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting. Portland, OR.

Degenstein, E.*, J. Graham, and A.P. O’Dowd. 2014. “Modeling velvetgrass (Holcus lanatus) habitat suitability in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.” UCGIS Symposium. Pasadena, CA.

O’Dowd, A.P. and W.J. Trush. 2014. “A perfect match for self-renewal: steelhead and the Santa Ynez River Ecosystem.” 32nd Annual Salmonid Restoration Federation Conference. Santa Barbara, CA.

Chin, A., A.P. O’Dowd, R. Storesund, A. Parker*, and C. Roberts-Niemann*. 2013. “Response of step-pool mountain channels to wildfire under changing climate-fire regimes.” American Geophysical Union Annual Fall Meeting. San Francisco, CA.

Chin, A., L. Laurencio*, A. Parker*, A.P. O’Dowd and R. Storesund. 2013. “Initial response of step-pool streams to wildfire.” Geological Society of America Annual Meeting. Denver, CO.

O’Dowd, A.P., A. Stubblefield, C. Praul, and R. Mazor. 2012. “Stream condition in the Lake Tahoe Basin using River Invertebrate Prediction and Classification System (RIVPACS).”  Tahoe Science Conference; Incline Village, NV.

Koski, I.* and A.P. O’Dowd. 2012. “Landscapes in transition: Private lands oak woodland management in the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion.” The California Society for Ecological Restoration (SERCAL) Conference; Davis, CA.

Mitchell, M.* and A.P. O’Dowd. 2012. “A comparison of terrestrial invertebrate communities of invaded and restored salt marsh of Humboldt Bay.” Humboldt Bay Symposium; Eureka, CA. Poster

Lagarde, L.* and A.P. O’Dowd. 2012. “Invasive Spartina densiflora Reduces Primary Productivity in a Northern California Salt Marsh.” Humboldt Bay Symposium; Eureka, CA. Poster

O’Dowd, A.P. and A. Chin. 2012. “Biological-physical interactions in step-pool streams: a guide for future restoration efforts.” River Restoration Northwest’s Stream Restoration Symposium; Stevenson, WA.

Purcell (O’Dowd), A.H. 2010. “Dipteran larvae as predators of macroinvertebrate egg masses.” Humboldt State University’s Ecology Seminar Series; Arcata, CA.

Alison O’Dowd
(707) 826-3438
Natural Resources (NR) Building, Rm. 213