My research integrates the natural and social sciences to investigate how to build better futures. See below for summaries of a sampling of my current projects.

Relational thinking

Does treating things, and our knowledge of them, as emerging from relationships — i.e., adopting relational thinking — enhance our understanding of coupled human–natural systems? In our recent paper, Drs. Kai Chan, Terre Satterfield, and I survey a range of examples from many different disciplines to show that the answer is yes. The paper is freely available:

Eyster, H. N., Satterfield, T., & Chan, K. M. A. (2023). Empirical examples demonstrate how relational thinking might enrich science and practice. People and Nature. Twitter thread summary.

Human action theories

Why do people do what they do? Understanding these theories of human action can help conservationists identify how to achieve a more sustainable world. However, these theories are dispersed across many different fields and are based on different meta-theories. I am synthesizing these theories to provide a map of the human action theories. I presented this work at the 2019 Student Conference on Conservation Science in Cambridge, UK.

The first paper has been published and is freely available:

Eyster, H. N., Satterfield, T., & Chan, K. M. A. (2022). Why people do what they do: an interdisciplinary synthesis of human action theories. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 47. Twitter thread summary.

I also contributed to Chapter 5 of the Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment, and to a resulting paper.

Relational values

Does thinking about values as properties of relationships, rather than properties of individual people, help us understand conservation motivations? Using surveys of British Columbians and econometrics, I study how relational values can help show how to motivate people to conserve widespread species. See our recent paper:

Eyster, H. N., Olmsted, P., Naidoo, R., & Chan, K. M. A. (2022). Motivating conservation even for widespread species using genetic uniqueness and relational values. Biological Conservation, 266, 109438. Available free here. Data here. And my twitter thread.

I also contributed to Chapter 4 of the Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Values Assessment.

Urban flourishing


Across North America, bird populations are plummeting: Since 1970, North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds. Much of these losses come from common, abundant species. To understand how Greater Vancouver can help to revert this decline,I received a grant to work with Stewardship Centre for BC and Birds Canada. I replicated > 500 bird point counts and >300 transect surveys across the metro region that were originally conducted in the 1960s, ’70s and ’90s. conducting bird, plant, and landscape surveys across Greater Vancouver. Preliminary analyses show substantial declines in many bird species over the last 20 years.

People and Nature

More and more people are living in cities, and discovering how to build cities that equitably serve people is becoming increasingly important. However, much of the current literature focuses on people (environmental justice) or nature (ecological justice, biodiveristy), which may prevent integrative solutions that could help all urban residents flourish. I develop frameworks for thinking about human and non-human justice in tandem. Collaborators: Rachelle K. Gould and Mayra I. Rodríguez González.


How has land cover changed over time? I gather historical aerial imagery and develop covolutional neural networks to classify these low-quality historical images into different land cover types and compare them to current land cover.

Climate adaptation and mitigation

Do some trees ameliorate urban heat waves better than others? Brian Beckage and I showed how coniferous trees may be key for lessening heat waves in the Pacific Northwest. Summary twitter thread.

Eyster, H. N., & Beckage, B. (2022). Conifers may ameliorate urban heat waves better than broadleaf trees: evidence from Vancouver, Canada. Atmosphere, 13, 830. Free link.

What causes these arboreal differences? We used a complex system dynamics model to show that three key tree traits drive differences in urban cooling.

Eyster, H. N., & Beckage, B. (2023). Arboreal Urban Cooling Is Driven by Leaf Area Index, Leaf Boundary Layer Resistance, and Dry Leaf Mass per Leaf Area: Evidence from a System Dynamics Model. Atmosphere, 14(3), 552. Twitter thread summary

Lichens and mosses

I co-supervised UBC undergraduate student Nicole Jung to understand the drivers of urban epiphyte diversity.


I advised UBC Masters student Julia Craig to understand the drivers of urban bat diversity. See her Msc thesis.

Bayesian modeling

I’m working with Brian Beckage to past and present landcover and bird abundance to build multispecies abundance models using a Bayesian framework in Stan. These models will identify trends in local bird diversity, what is driving them, and how Vancouver can begin to reverse them. Moreover, by combining these data with data that Jaylen Bastos and the Stewardship Centre for BC is collecting on roaming cat density (in another study), priority areas for cat awareness and management will be identified. More information about these studies can be found here.

Implementing average predictive comparisons

As modelling frameworks become more complex, it can be difficult to isolate the effects of different variables. Average predictive comparison provide a method for this estimation. However, they have rarely been used because they can be complicated to implement. I am creating an implementation of average predictive comparisons in a Bayesian framework using Stan . See my explanatory document on github. Collaborators: Dr. Elizabeth Wolkovich and Dr. Geoffrey Legault

Has COVID-19, and the associated lockdowns, affected people’s relationships with wildlife?

Using a survey and quantitative and qualitative analysis of North American urbanites, we are investigating how COVID-19 has changed people’s lifestyles, and how this in turn is changing people’s relationships with local wildlife. How can cities adapt to these changes, and give people the connections to nature that they need? Collaborators: Jo Fitzgibbons, Rocío López de la Lama.

Bird conservation and community ecology in agriculture fields

Perhaps the biggest way that people are connected to nature is through their food consumption. Unfortunately, the corn and soy monocultures in the American Midwest provide little habitat for birds. Some farmers are experimenting with perennial polyculture fields to support biodiversity and provide food and livelihoods. I conducted bird and plant surveys at 13 of these polyculture farms in 2018, along with adjacent woods, prairies, and monocultures. I built multispecies abundance models in Stan and found that these polycultures do indeed provide superior habitat for birds.

See our freely-available recent paper:

Eyster, H. N., Srivastava, D. S., Kreitzman, M., & Chan, K. M. A. (2022). Functional traits and metacommunity theory reveal that habitat filtering and competition maintain bird diversity in a human shared landscape. Ecography, 2022, Article 11. Twitter Summary.

Another paper compares a whole suite of biophysical metrics across perennial polycultures and traditional agricultural fields:

Kreitzman, M., Eyster, H. N., Mitchell, M., Czajewska, A., Keeley, K., Smukler, S., Sullivan, N., Verster, A., & Chan, K. M. A. (2022). Woody perennial polycultures in the U.S. Midwest enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Ecosphere, 13(1). Twitter summary. Data

Climate change ecology

What causes some plants to become invasive and others not? Are some species able to rapidly evolve to excel in a novel environment? Or are they able to flourish in a novel environment without adapting? And what does this mean for how invasive plants might respond to climate change? For my undergraduate thesis research, I collected plant seeds from their native range in Europe and invasive range in North America, grew them in a variety of climates in growth chambers and then used multilevel models in Stan to understand if these seven species had rapidly evolved since invasion. See our recent publication:

Eyster, H. N., & Wolkovich, E. M. (2021). Comparisons in the native and introduced ranges reveal little evidence of climatic adaptation in germination traits. Climate Change Ecology, 2, 100023. twitter thread summary. Data.

Tourist preferences for African Protected Areas

What aspects of African Protected Areas attract tourists? The ‘Big five’ megafauna are often seen as key features of any park, but do they drive visits? Drs. Kai Chan, Robin Naidoo, and I used data on animal presense, visitation rates, and other landscape data to show that tourist preferences extend beyond the Big Five to include bird diversity. We also observed that ecotourism may be well suited to conserve bird diversity, lion, cheetah, black and white rhinoceros, African wild dog and giraffe species.

Eyster, H. N., Naidoo, R., & Chan, K. M. A. (2022). Not just the Big Five: African ecotourists prefer parks brimming with bird diversity. Animal Conservation.

Sensory ecology

I conduct bird color vision and sensory ecology research with Dr. Mary Caswell Stoddard at the Rocky Mountain Biological Station in Colorado. See our recent publication in PNAS and my twitter thread summary.