Mollie Francis ’20, Eden Prairie, Minn., was one of 16 student recipients nationwide of a 2017 Sigma Zeta Research Award.
Alongside associate professor of biology Dr. Joe Whittaker, Francis has been researching campus squirrel behavior and habitat in relation to climate change. Her work builds off of previous Sigma Zeta-funded projects.
Her research, “Comparative Analysis of Squirrel Behavior and Habitat use in Light of Climate Change,” focuses on various breeds of squirrels, including eastern gray squirrels, American red squirrels, and northern flying squirrels. Minnesota is one of the fastest-warming states with an increasing growing season, which is predicted to impact squirrel behavior and habitat use.
She chose squirrels as her focus because they are one of the few mammals that can thrive and establish niches in urban settings such as college campuses, making them an excellent group to study differential behavioral and habitat use.
“I have always loved squirrels, and animals in general, and am very fascinated with how humans can have an impact on animal behavior,” Francis said.
Throughout her research, Francis monitors squirrels through an ethogram and tracks them individually using radio telemetry. The behaviors she examines are foraging, nesting, caching, movement, interactions, and handling food. Each observation, repeated throughout different times of the day, is five minutes in duration with behavior recorded every 20 seconds.
Sigma Zeta is a national undergraduate honor society created to encourage scholarly activity and recognize academic scholarship in the natural sciences, computer science and mathematics. Concordia’s Sigma Zeta chapter, Gamma Gamma, was founded in 2012 and received the Founders’ Cup Award in 2015 and 2017 at the Sigma Zeta National Convention. A chapter is not eligible to win the award two consecutive years.