Jessica Watson ’17 knows the campus squirrels by name, but it is her knowledge of their behavior that introduced her research to an international audience.
She’s part of a team at Concordia studying red and gray squirrel interactions. This fall, she presented at The Wildlife Society Annual Conference in Winnipeg, Canada.
“It was fun to share and hear other peoples’ opinions of our research,” she says.
Watson (pictured at left), from Detroit Lakes, Minn., has participated in undergraduate research since the summer after her first year at Concordia. Last summer she received a research grant from Sigma Zeta, the national math and science honor society, for the campus squirrel telemetry project.
Dr. Joe Whittaker, assistant professor of biology, and a team of students have spent more than a year capturing squirrels around campus and attaching radio bands. Students use an antenna to track the squirrels and monitor their behaviors.
Learning how the species live together while competing for resources like food and shelter fills a gap in existing research, Whittaker says. The process of tracking also teaches students good techniques for other types of research.
Watson finds the experience worthwhile as she prepares for a career in field biology, hopefully studying reptiles and snakes. Presenting at the international meeting that drew about 1,500 attendees helped her make valuable connections. Through networking, she received several leads on promising research experiences for next summer.
“I even met one of the sources I cited,” she says.
“Presenting is a wonderful experience for our students,” Whittaker says.