Mary Lofton

Biological Sciences

Mary Lofton joined Dr. Cayelan Carey’s lab as a research assistant in fall 2015 and started her doctoral degree studying freshwater ecology in fall 2016. She is most interested in examining how changing climate and land use interact to affect the ecosystem functioning of drinking water reservoirs. She plans to use her experience as an IGC fellow to become an effective cross-disciplinary research contributor, educator, and management/policy advisor in freshwater ecology.

Mary is committed to using interdisciplinary approaches to study water quality. She is interested in studying how phytoplankton community dynamics change in response to climate and water management decisions, and how these phytoplankton community changes in turn affect reservoir ecosystem health and water quality for human use.


Mary earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from William and Mary in 2010. At William and Mary, her coursework focused on ecology and conservation biology, and she participated in research relating to rare plant conservation in Virginia. Subsequently, Mary spent five years as a high school teacher in independent schools before beginning her transition back to graduate school. As a teacher, she found that aquatic ecology and water resources were topics that really energized her Biology and Environmental Science students. Some students cared about the quality of the water they drank; some felt strongly about global social justice issues related to freshwater availability; some enjoyed getting into streams to dig around for benthic macroinvertebrates; some thought it was super cool to have a 55-gallon aquarium in the classroom; nearly all of them seemed to enjoy learning about water! During this time, her interactions with students, parents, and participants in citizen science and conservation groups highlighted the importance of broader understanding about our water resources and how freshwater ecosystems function.

Her aquatic experiences in the classroom sparked Mary’s interest in freshwater ecology and eventually led her to Dr. Carey’s lab in Virginia Tech’s Stream Team research group. Mary’s overarching research goal is to help find ways to sustainably provide high-quality freshwater resources to all communities. Mary believes that because everyone needs access to quality fresh water, promoting the health of our freshwater ecosystems can be a common ground to bring people with different careers, backgrounds, and viewpoints together. Through her Ph.D. research, she aims to facilitate clear, relevant, and scientifically accurate communication about the importance of water resources among scientists, engineers, water managers, and the public.