USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Publications and Products Faces of Research

Meet Christina Liang, research ecologist

A photo of Joey Chong holding a boa constrictor.
Christina Liang, U.S. Forest Service
  • As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    I really didnít know! I was fortunate that my parents never pushed any particular career path while I was in school, so I just was able to explore various subjects.

  • When did you become interested in science?

    I was always interested in biology and the sciences, but it wasnít until I got to college at the University of California, Berkeley that I was introduced more to natural resources science. And it wasnít until I spent my junior year abroad in Australia when I really fell in love with the outdoors and became focused on wildlife ecology and environmental sciences. I think spending time in the natural world was key for me becoming interested in ecology, and I didnít really have that exposure until I was abroad.

  • What happened after college?

    Right after college, I did a Student Conservation Association (SCA) internship with the then-National Biological Service (now part of the U.S. Geological Survey). I radio-tracked desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert for three months. Looking back, I can say that it was kind of a transformative experience for me. It was the spring right after a wet El NiŮo year, and plants were blooming that hadnít bloomed in years, and the desert was amazingly beautiful with abundant vegetation and wildlife. The Mojave Desert is a really great spot for reptiles and has many lizard and snake species, and I became interested in herpetology (the study of amphibians and reptiles). I decided that was the field I wanted to focus on when I applied to graduate school. So the SCA experience was very meaningful to me.

  • Why did you choose a career with the Forest Service?

    I didnít necessarily choose a career with the Forest Service, but I was fortunate that the Forest Service chose me! While I was a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, I happened to meet the liaison for the Forest Service Asian Pacific American recruitment initiative who was housed on campus. He told me about the Basu scholarship, which provided an opportunity for Asian Pacific American students to receive tuition and to enter into trainee positions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture while in school and then move into permanent positions after graduation. I applied for the scholarship.

    Separately from applying for the scholarship, I was looking to develop a project for my dissertation and was interested in the effects of land management on amphibian species. This led me to Amy Lind, who was an ecologist with the Forest Serviceís Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW) leading a Yosemite toad study in the Sierra Nevada in California. I began working with her as a volunteer to gain experience and to establish my own project with the Yosemite toad, which now is a federally threatened species. About six months after I applied for the Basu scholarship and after I already was collaborating with Amy, I was selected to receive the scholarship and to work officially with PSW while I was in graduate school. Everything just aligned for me to come on board with the Forest Service!

  • What brought you to Hawaii, and how has being here changed your work?

    After I received my Ph.D. in 2010, I was offered a full-time research ecologist position with PSW in Hilo. I was very excited about the opportunity, of course, but I had never been to Hawaii before I moved here.

    Hawaii is a very special and unique place. Amphibians are not native here. The coquí frog, which is probably the most prominent amphibian on Hawai‘i Island ó because itís so loud! ó is an introduced species. In California, I was working with a native, threatened amphibian species and thinking about my work from a conservation viewpoint, such as the best way to gain information about the species to help conserve or manage it for perpetuity. In Hawaii, where there are so many invasive species, itís kind of the flipside. How do we study and manage the non-native species in order to minimize their negative impacts on the ecosystem?

    This has led me to a collaborative project looking at the impacts of non-native predator species on pollination and native plant reproduction in Hawaii. The study hopefully will provide information for native plant conservation, and for management and restoration of invaded native island ecosystems. In another collaborative project, I am investigating the landscape genomics of koa, which is an endemic tree in Hawaii. I am by no means a geneticist, but I think that genomics is a really interesting field and that using genomics as a tool to answer applied questions pertaining to adaptation and for management is of great value.

    These research topics are different from what I studied in California and during my dissertation, but in Hawaii, Iíve had the opportunities to go in some new and unexpected directions. It has been really exciting to grow and pursue different projects within the Forest Service.

  • Whatís your advice for young people or someone trying to decide on a career path?

    Explore, ask questions, get the experience. Go out and volunteer or find an internship and try it out. You might discover that it's something that you love to do and you can continue to pursue it. Or you might find out that you really don't like it, and try something else. I think it's really important for everyone to try to figure out their likes and dislikes, and also their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • We celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage Month during May. What does your Asian heritage mean to you and coworkers?

    When I was growing up, I didnít necessarily think about my heritage. It was just part of me. As I grow older and I look back and reflect upon it more, I can identify traditions and customs more readily as part of a larger heritage and how that heritage has contributed to my life.

    My mom is originally from Taiwan and immigrated to the United States as an adult. My dad is originally from Guangdong, China. His family moved to Taiwan when he was young, but he then immigrated to the United States when he was an adult. I went to Taiwan with my mom once when I was a baby, and then a second time when I was 7 years old.

    In 2014, my mom and I went back to Taiwan to tour the island, and we also went to China to visit the town where her grandfather came from. That entire trip was really meaningful and very special to me. Taiwan is an amazing place with incredible scenery and geology and is really diverse biologically, but it also has a rich cultural element plus family history that I connected with. So I got to be a tourist and see some beautiful sites, but we also went to some of the places where my family has roots. I was able to meet some of my cousins, and see the old house where my fatherís family lived when they first moved to Taiwan. It also was really interesting to see connections both within and beyond our family, and to recognize why people sometimes interact the way that they do ó where those social ties come from. It was very fascinating and illuminating for me. And the food was fantastic, too!

Last Modified: May 16, 2017 11:57:16 AM