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New faculty profile: Dan Preston specializes in freshwater ecology and conservation

Dan Preston joined the faculty in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology as an assistant professor in August 2018.

What is your background?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I did my undergraduate work at Oregon State University and my PhD work at the University of Colorado. Before coming to UW–Madison, I was a postdoc at Oregon State University.

How did you get into your field of research?
I grew up spending time outdoors while camping, fishing and boating with family and friends. I always had a passion for biology from a young age. I kept many pets in the house including marine and freshwater fishes, reptiles and amphibians. I also grew tropical plants in a greenhouse when I was young. My parents encouraged these interests, which eventually shaped my career goal to become an ecologist.

What is the main goal of your current research program?
My research focuses on understanding the links between environmental change, species interactions and ecosystem function in freshwaters. I often work on parasites and invasive species, which can present pressing challenges to management and conservation of freshwater resources.

What attracted you to UW–Madison?
The top-notch collection of freshwater scientists was a huge draw. I also found the town to be a great place to live.

What was your first visit to campus like?
It was my first time ever in Wisconsin. I remember the friendly people, sunny and cold weather, and being enamored by Lake Mendota.

Favorite place on campus?
Probably the Babcock Dairy Store near my office (great sandwiches!). The Union Terrace is difficult to beat after work as well.

What are you most enjoying so far about working here?
Stimulating interactions with colleagues have been a highlight thus far.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
My work focuses on freshwater ecosystems, which play profound roles in Wisconsin and throughout the globe. Freshwater ecosystems support local Wisconsin economies via tourism and recreation, provide water for agriculture and drinking, help alleviate challenges from excess nutrient inputs and pollution, all while supporting biodiversity that contributes in myriad ways to our quality of life. At the same, our growing population often strains freshwater ecosystems in ways that require creative solutions from multiple stakeholders beyond the UW–Madison campus. Conducting research that can be applied to freshwater challenges in Wisconsin is a prime example of the Wisconsin Idea in action.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
I have studied parasites called trematodes that have amazing life cycles, often involving a freshwater snail, an aquatic invertebrate or fish, and predatory birds or mammals. Swimmers itch is something that Wisconsin residents often deal with at lakes in the summertime, and it is caused by a trematode parasite that inadvertently burrows into human skin, instead of the legs and feet of mergansers or ducks, which are its natural hosts.

What are you hobbies and other interests?
I enjoy biking, fishing, boating, good food and walking our dog along Lake Monona near our home.

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