Research Q & A
What’s your hometown?
I am from Saint Louis, Missouri.
How did you get started/what drew you to your area of study?
I’ve always thought reptiles and amphibians were super cool, and since age 6, I’ve loved maps. When I was an undergraduate at Missouri State University, I heard of ‘biogeography’ for the first time. So combining animals with maps became feasible.
What are you currently working on?
Thanks to the Dayton Fellowship, I was able to conduct field research this Fall. During that time, I visited temperature sensors that were established in May 2021 and downloaded microhabitat data that had been logged for five months. This process will go on for about a year. Temperature data will be used to model the distribution and behavior of the South Mountains Gray-cheeked Salamander, which is an extremely rare species, so it may be especially at risk of extinction from climate change.
The Dayton Fellowship has also given me the flexibility to work on other projects for my dissertation, especially work on ecophysiology, which is also needed to make climate change impact predictions.
What will your next steps/research be?
The biggest next steps are analysis and writing. I’ve gotten close to collecting all the data I need for my dissertation. I’m doing some museum-based research at the Smithsonian this semester, and I only have one more field research trip, which will be in May 2022.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Visit your field site before you begin your research. A lot of my expectations about field research were very inaccurate. I expected my study species to be way easier to find. That has forced me to refocus a lot of my questions and think through new conceptual and practical issues.
This past May, I set up 200 temperature sensors across the South Mountains of North Carolina. This is a tiny mountain range, but it is the only place on Earth where my study species, the South Mountains Gray-cheeked Salamander (Plethodon meridianus) lives. I will combine ecophysiological traits (like metabolic rate and water loss rate) with microhabitat data from the temperature sensors to model the behavior and distribution of this salamander and then estimate climate change impacts. In the photograph, I’m trying to remember where I placed those tiny little sensors. One got lost, several were almost smashed by bears, and one got dropped down a large mammal burrow and couldn’t be recovered. Hiking around with a laptop felt particularly nerdy.
This past October, I was re-locating sensors to download the first five months’ worth of temperature data. When I came across this sensor, I was excited to find a Blue Ridge Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus orestes) taking refuge within it. While most people probably think of salamanders as animals that live in water, most species are fully terrestrial, and many species frequently climb trees.