What do you enjoy most/what do you find most interesting about your research topic?
The most rewarding part of my work is my interaction with nature and cultures different than mine. In our increasingly fast-paced, high-tech society, it becomes so easy to distance ourselves from the natural world. I am fortunate enough to have chosen a field of study that allows me to think about relationships and connections in nature on a daily basis. When work gets really busy and stressful it is easy to lose sight of this, but then I get a day in the field and I am reminded how fortunate I am to be able to study the natural world for my job. What excites me most about my specific field of research – which focuses on understanding how climate and land use influence bird communities – is that it has practical applications to conservation. Although the environmental challenges we face as a society are many, knowing that my work contributes, even a tiny amount, to helping us face these challenging is very rewarding.
How does citizen science support your research?
Throughout my career I have relied on citizen science for data and to investigate ecological patterns. For example, for my master’s work, I collaborated with Mountain Birdwatch, a citizen science based high-elevation bird monitoring program, in order to understand distribution patterns of a threatened high-elevation specialist. Without the support of this program I would not have had enough data to get meaningful results.
What is one of your favorite moments in the field?
One of my most memorable field experiences was when I was working for the Wildlife Conservation Society studying cougars in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). During this time, I accompanied the cougar capture crew that was putting GPS collars on cougars. We hiked in to the park for two hours with hounds until we crested a very steep slope to find ourselves waist deep in snow. When we crossed the cougar’s tracks, the hounds were released and began to chase after the big cat, a young male in this case that soon climbed up into a tree. I watched in awe as one of the crew members climbed the tree in order to lower the big cat down by his back legs. Once on the ground, the crew took various measurements and gathered important data about this young 125-lb male cougar. Once the cougar had its new GPS collar and was thoroughly measured, we packed up and moved to a location from which we could observe the cougar without disturbing it as the effects of the ketamine wore off. Once we confirmed that the cougar could get around on its own, we began the long hike out of the park.