I grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and had the great fortune of living near a nature park in the middle of our rapidly expanding suburb. It’s a small, 40-acre park, but it was the closest thing to wilderness that I would see until I left Oklahoma for college. Not only did it spark my imagination of what critters could be living inside the forest and streams, but it also generated a love and appreciation for natural areas, no matter how small and degraded they may be. As a teen, I became more aware of the park’s degradation. I noticed the paucity of understory plant species, the dominance of invasive shrubs throughout the forest’s understory, the persistent algal blooms in the ponds, and the scarcity of fish in the streams. It broke my heart to realize that my childhood wilderness was actually a reminder of the various ways in which humans create lasting effects on ecosystems.
As an undergraduate at UW-Madison majoring in Zoology and Conservation Biology, I developed a passion for ecology as it nurtured my curiosity of how species interact with each other and respond to their environment to create visible patterns in habitat quality and species persistence. I realized that in order for conservation to be effective, basic ecological questions needed to be investigated, and I wanted to contribute to this general knowledge. I worked in the Gratton Lab as a lab technician for 3 years under the mentorship of Dr. Tania Kim, where I learned how to conduct experiments to understand both basic questions of how animals interact with each other and the plants that they consume and applied questions of how human activities modify these interactions. For my graduate work in the Orrock Lab, I have been working in the southeastern US to understand how human disturbances in both the past and present generate spatial variation in plant-animal and predator-prey interactions to generate large-scale patterns in mammalian behavior and plant survival.
When I am not working on these research topics, I can be found walking my dog to one of Madison’s many green spaces, camping, riding bikes, enjoying live music, or volunteering with Meals on Wheels.