This was my first position after I graduated from Elon. I worked under the supervision of Marilyn Kitchell, Wildlife Biologist at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Marilyn’s expertise was bat biology, so I learned how to use mist-nets to capture bats (to place radio transmitters on them) and how to conduct acoustic monitoring for declining species. I also worked with Colin Osborn (Biological Technician) to conduct population surveys and radio telemetry for bog turtles and wood turtles.
This position was also my first foray into bird surveys. Working with New Jersey state agency employees, along with Ken Witkowski (Biological Technician at Wallkill), I learned how to trap, band, and age mourning doves and Canada Geese. Ken also taught me how to conduct point count surveys for upland birds, call-back surveys for secretive marsh birds, and scope-spotting for migrating shorebird surveys.
Lastly, I helped conduct four outreach events for children in the area. This culminated in an outreach event that I made and led called “Snakes of your backyard.” Over 100 people attended, and participants got to handle live snakes, learn about the benefits of having snakes on their property, and see simple actions they could take to improve snake habitat. This was my first major experience doing science/environmental outreach, and it taught me a lot on how to structure events to keep both children and adults engaged.
Ray Dueser, Professor Emeritus at Utah State University, hired me and Jim Sparks to conduct small mammal 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 because 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. Answering big questions requires vision and the sufficient temporal or spatial scale. This position gave me a healthy perspective on how to begin thinking 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.
Salamander Responses to Forest Management
Don’t tell my Penn State colleagues, but this job was through the Ohio State University. I worked at Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest, located in the foothills of the Appalachians. The project was led by two graduate students, Mike Graziano and Lauren Blyth. Mike’s research focused on wetland breeding amphibians, and Lauren’s research focused on the salamander community. At the experimental forest, we surveyed forest tracts that were routinely burned, thinned, burned and thinned, and non-managed. The goal was to determine how such forestry practices influenced the species composition of the salamander community.
I worked alongside David Alsbach to check aquatic funnel traps and drift fences with pitfall traps. One of the coolest aspects of this position was getting to see how the forest changed from winter to summer. Hiking the same, several-mile route each day, we got to see dozens of wildflower species as they bloomed. This position ended up preparing me well for my work in David Miller’s lab, and it taught me some of the constraints graduate students face when conducting their research.