Carey Islands (Photo: Nicholas Per Huffeldt)

“I think it is important for research to have meaningful impact “

05 June 2020
Interview with Dr Nicholas Huffeldt, 2020-2021 CAFF-IASC Fellow with the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme

Dr Nicholas Huffeldt has been selected for the 2020-2021 joint fellowship offered by the Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF) and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC). During his one-year fellowship, Dr Huffeldt wants to get a deeper understanding of the interface between science and policy making and he is looking forward to generating knowledge in collaboration with people living in the Arctic. His work will contribute to implementing the Coastal Biodiversity Monitoring Plan developed by CAFF's Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme.

Dr Nicholas Huffeldt

Could you tell us about your background and research interests?

My research background began to take shape during my undergraduate studies, when I studied biology with a marine science emphasis in the United States. I then moved on to study behavioral ecology of seabirds for my master’s degree in Denmark in a collaboration between the University of Copenhagen and the National Environmental Research Institute of Denmark, which is now part of Aarhus University. I was working mainly with seabirds in Greenland, and I have been working with seabirds ever since –throughout the Arctic and beyond.

The research from my master’s snowballed into my PhD project, during which a colleague and I discovered that the seabirds we were working with, thick-billed murres, have a behavioral rhythm of 24-hours despite the continuous light of polar summer. This is very interesting because many organisms – including us humans – don’t necessarily stick to a 24-hour rhythm under continuous light conditions, especially when we don’t have clocks dictating our schedule. So, we started investigating the physiological and ecological underpinnings of this behavior.

I have continued working on this phenomenon as a focus of my postdoctoral fellowship at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, but I’m also branching out, investigating how this behavior relates to the murres’ role in the ecosystem. Is there something in the ecosystem that is causing this rhythm or is the rhythm a consequence of other factors? As seabirds are a vector between marine, coastal, and terrestrial systems, they provide an interesting window into these three systems, and I’m trying to understand how their behavior fits into the Arctic ecosystem more generally.

My long-term trajectory is that I will widen my research scope beyond seabirds and look more broadly at ecosystem functioning and biodiversity as a whole, and what overarching factors are dictating biodiversity changes in the Arctic.

I want to understand what aspects of my research may be important to policy makers; how we can influence policy making and, in turn, how policy makers influence what we are working on.Dr Nicholas Huffeldt, 2020-2021 CAFF-IASC Fellow

During your fellowship you will work on implementing the Coastal Biodiversity Monitoring Plan developed by CAFFs Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme. What does this entail?

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the start of my fellowship. I was supposed to have an in-person meeting with CAFF’s Coastal Steering Group in early May, during which we were going to decide what product I would develop as part of the fellowship. We were able to discuss some of it online, but we had limited time and spent most of the meeting discussing the Coastal Biodiversity Monitoring Plan. However, we were talking about my product bringing together scientific, traditional, and local knowledge, through a co-production of knowledge approach, which is one of the focus areas of the Coastal Steering Group. I come from a science background with some experience with monitoring. So now, I’m really looking forward to developing something in collaboration with people living in the region, who have direct experience with the topic at hand.

What are some challenges you expect to encounter along the way?

Some of the challenges that I expect to face are related to the science-policy interface, which is quite different from my previous work in university environments. I want to understand what aspects of my research may be important to policy makers; how we can influence policy making and, in turn, how policy makers influence what we are working on. It will be a challenge to learn to speak the language used at this interface, and to assimilate into a group that has been working with science and policy for years. But, it’s a challenge that I’m looking forward to because I think it is important for research to have meaningful impact.

Another area that I am learning more about is that of co-production of knowledge – what it means and how it is implemented. It will definitely not be a straight forward process to develop a product that contains elements of co-production of knowledge, to identify people with the appropriate knowledge, and to jointly produce knowledge that we can present to the Arctic Council and the Coastal Steering Group.

What made you apply for the CAFF-IASC fellowship?

Science is important because it provides new knowledge – even if we don’t always know immediately what it is useful for. However, it is just as important to be able to produce knowledge that has an immediate societal benefit. So, my main ambition when I applied for the fellowship was to learn about the science-policy interface, in order to play a more active role and to produce science that is immediately useful. I think the fellowship is a great opportunity for early career scientists to understand the system and mechanisms behind the science-policy interface.

What do you hope to be the main outcome from your fellowship?

I hope to get more experience with the science-policy interface and to learn about processes that the Coastal Steering Group has been using, especially related to the application of co-producing knowledge. I am interested to work with people who have direct experience, who bring in different viewpoints, and to produce knowledge that will be useful to guide sustainable use and development of the Arctic.