Theoretical, empirical and applied questions about the reciprocal relationship between African savanna landscapes and cultures drive Dr. Shaffer’s research. Broadly, she seeks to understand (1) how culturally-influenced, resource use choices and activities affect savanna pattern and process; and (2) how the biophysical variability of savannas influences human behavior and culture through space and time. She uses tools and frameworks from historical ecology, and explores local indigenous knowledge to answer questions about adapting and responding to environmental risk and change, cultural knowledge and institutions shaping adaptation, vulnerability and resilience, and environmental and historical constraints on human activities.
Dr. Shaffer's dissertation research at Maputo Special Reserve investigated the effects of livelihood-related harvest activities on vegetation distribution, abundance, and diversity in two rural communities located on the coastal savanna of southern Mozambique. Initial results document human contributions to the region’s fire regime and tree species distributions, traditional knowledge about flora and fauna, climate, fire and drought buffering strategies, and community environmental history. Her dissertation research was funded by both a U.S. Student Fulbright Fellowship and an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant in Cultural Anthropology.
Building on this work, her current interests focus on adaptive long-term management of protected areas and adjacent landscapes in Mozambique under future climate uncertainty. Dr. Shaffer works with an interdisciplinary and international team of colleagues in Mozambique and the United States - including wildlife ecologists, landscape modellers, human geographers, fire ecologists, botanists, soil scientists, conservationists, park managers, and local community members. Long-term research goals include supporting local livelihoods and human communities sustainably while protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services and building both resiliency and adaptive capacity for Mozambique's complex socio-ecological landscape. Research study sites include Maputo Special Reserve (Lubombo TFCA), Alto Limpopo (Limpopo TFCA), Gilé National Reserve (Zambézia), and Quirimbas National Park (Cabo Delgado).
Dr. Shaffer joined the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland in January 2012. Prior to that she was a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Geography at Penn State University. As a postdoc, she collaborated with residents of four rural Tanzanian communities to develop a community-based environmental monitoring program and participate in climate research activities. She graduated cum laude from Cornell University in 1994 with B.S. in Biology (Ecology & Systematics). She received a M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon in 1999, and completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Georgia in 2009. In-between degrees, she worked as a marine/freshwater ecology lab technician, served as an environmental education consultant to the Territorial Energy Office in American Samoa, taught biology/environmental science in Houston ISD and Houston Community College, and traveled.
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