What do you enjoy most/what do you find most interesting about your research topic?
As a social scientist with a background in ecology, I’m fascinated by human-environment interactions. That’s one thing I love about this project—seeing how people can impact the environment and vice versa. The idea for the project was born from a colleague’s observation of local landowners in the study area planting trees on their property. I immediately began wondering: Why are they planting these trees? Do the landowners think their tree planting helps the environment? And, from an ecological standpoint, does this tree planting help reduce the impact of habitat fragmentation. If it does provide ecological benefits, how can we encourage more landowners to plant trees on their property?
How does citizen science support your research?
We could not conduct this research effectively without citizen science. The number of observations necessary for a strong data set would be difficult to collect by just the PIs and graduate students. In addition, this work will help in understanding restoration approaches and ecosystem services. In the larger context, for work like this to continue, citizen scientists help support our research by sharing the importance of the work and what they learned with family and friends when they return home.
What is one of your favorite moments in the field?
In 2008, I was conducting my dissertation research on conservation volunteer tourism at a biological station in Ecuador. Besides interviewing volunteers, part of
my research involved participant observation, which is where a researcher participates in activities with volunteers and records her observations. One of the best things about conducting research with the volunteers was re-experiencing the awe and wonder of the cloud forest. I got to relive the wonder through their eyes—plus, there was always something new to see – jaguar tracks; a toucanette outside the window; leaf cutter ants working tirelessly to move bits of leaves, looking like green sailboats on the dusty trail.