Ray Dueser, Professor Emeritus at Utah State University, hired me and Jim Sparks to conduct small surveys along the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Ray’s project has been part of ongoing research at the Virginia Coastal Reserve LTER since the 1970s. The barrier islands of Virginia are a unique system to study. The size and topography of the islands are constantly shifting as water currents continuously erode and build landmass. The project focused on understanding how rising sea level and ecosystem change influence the occurrence of small mammals on the islands. We conducted live-mammal trapping on 21 islands and 3 mainland sites to gather occurrence and genetic data to understand how species colonize and go extinct on these islands.
This job opened my eyes to the scope required to understand ecological dynamics. In ecology, variation across time and space are a central to the discipline. To answer big questions requires big scope. This position gave me a healthy perspective on how to think about answering some of the big questions facing ecologists: how do species’ populations vary across large spatial scales? How do species respond to anthropogenic global change?
These realizations would later influence the types of experiences I sought out for graduate school.