Betsy Colburn

Betsy A. Colburn is an aquatic ecologist based at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, where she conducts research on headwater streams and vernal pools, and works on conservation-related issues. Her book, “Vernal Pools: Natural History and Conservation,” provides a comprehensive overview of seasonal woodland ponds that provide important breeding habitat for frogs, salamanders, and a host of invertebrate species in eastern North America.

Following undergraduate studies in biology at Brown University and Occidental College, Betsy decided to focus on freshwater ecology. Her graduate research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, examined effects of power-plant construction on snails in Wisconsin River floodplain wetlands (M.S.), and aquatic insects, adaptations to saline desert springs and streams in Death Valley, CA (PhD). In 1983, after teaching at Williams College for 4 years, she joined the scientific staff of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, where for 18 years she was responsible for research, education, and advocacy on groundwater, acid rain, water quality, wetlands protection, and related issues. This work included presenting workshops and writing manuals to help local officials implement environmental regulations, including: “Landfills and Groundwater Protection;” “Basic Hydrologic Calculations for Conservation Commissions;” and “Understanding and Administering the MA Wetlands Protection Act.”

Betsy has experienced the challenges of implementing environmental laws as a member of local regulatory boards and as the owner of farmland. She continues her research on relationships between aquatic habitats, land use, and freshwater life, and she remains committed to public education and outreach directed toward appreciation and conservation of water resources.