Person in wheelchair smiling directly at camera

Charlotte Devitz

Research Q & A

How did you get started/what drew you to your area of study?

I became interested in urban ecology not only because I find the work fascinating, but because cities present a more accessible environment for me to work in. Understanding how and why some species are able to cope with the dramatic changes presented by urbanization is a topic that excites me.

Why are you focusing your work in that area?

I am studying urban squirrels because they are a phenomenal example of adaptation to anthropogenic change; squirrels in cities seem to be just as successful there as in rural environments, sometimes even more so. Understanding the behavioral characteristics that facilitate this adaptation, and inversely the effects that urbanization has on these animals provides insight for conservation, urban planning and wildlife management as urban areas expand.

What are you currently working on?

During my summer field seasons I catch squirrels to run behavioral tests, individually mark individuals so we can track them long term and collecting samples from them. We are currently using hair samples to assess exposure to heavy metals and examine how much of their diet is made up of “people food”. I am also working on testing fecal samples collected from the animals for the presence of microplastics to try and better understand the potential physiological effects of living in cities.

Where are you working on research/field work?

My work right now is taking place on the UM Saint Paul Campus, and in local parks such as Como Park. We have also been attempting to capture squirrels at Cedar Creek as a rural outgroup for comparison.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

I am a big advocate for accessibility in STEM and erasing the idea that disability precludes the ability to pursue science, particularly field-based science. With the right support system in place, students with disabilities can access science. Find what you are passionate about and go after it, no matter what.


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