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Grad Student Profiles


Annie Schmidt
Annie Schmidt.

Works on Southeast Farallon Island in PRBO's Farallon Research Program (Marine Ecology Division).

Now in her third year of doctoral study—in ecology, with an emphasis in conservation ecology—at University of California, Davis. Advisors: Dr. Louis Botsford and Dr. John M. Eadie. Awarded a full, three-year NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2009.

Focus of research: Understanding the contradictory responses of the Farallon populations of Brandt's Cormorant and Cassin's Auklet to changing ocean conditions. Is climate change producing seabird winners and losers?

In Annie's own words:

"My seabird love story began six years ago on a tiny island in Oregon. I was fresh out of college and a new intern in a PRBO study of Leach's Storm-petrels. Prior to this, I had no idea what a storm-petrel was, but the first time I held one I was captivated. This mysterious seabird, so small and seemingly delicate, was probably older and much tougher than I was. I returned to PRBO the following year to work on Southeast Farallon Island. The place was a bustling metropolis of seabird activity day and night. Living and working in close proximity to such a flurry of life stirred my scientific interest like nothing else in my experience. The first season I spent on the island happened to be the year (2005) when Cassin's Auklets suffered total breeding failure there—an event never before witnessed in nearly 35 years of PRBO study. My curiosity was piqued. I was hooked by the potential patterns those 35 years of data could reveal—and hooked on the Farallones.
To monitor individual Brandt's Cormorants on Southeast Farallon Island, PRBO biologists band half-grown chicks—at night, for the birds' safety. PRBO photo.

"Collaborating with PRBO gives me the opportunity to continue working in a place I love and also to utilize valuable long-term data. PRBO has worked exceptionally hard over the years to maintain funding and support for its long-term research programs. The Farallon Islands now represent the long-est continuous data set on seabird ecology in the Northern Hemisphere. For a graduate student, the opportunity to unlock that data is exciting and unique. Many of the most pressing questions in science and conservation today require a thorough understanding of how the past relates to the present.

"My plans are to continue conducting research aimed at addressing conservation concerns and leading to better management of marine ecosystems. Through research and education, I hope to contribute to greater public awareness of the issues facing marine ecosystems today. "

Libby Porzig
Libby Porzig holds a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at a PRBO mistnet monitoring site. PRBO photo.

Conducts field work at Palomarin Field Station in PRBO's Terrestrial Ecology Division.

Now in her third year of doctoral study at University of California, Davis, in the Graduate Ecology Group. Advisor: Dr. John M. Eadie.

Focus of research: How songbirds respond to environmental change—identifying some causes (environmental factors) and understanding the mechanisms (population and behavioral changes).

In Libby's own words:
Wrentit. Photo by Tom Grey.

"Several individuals played a key role in inspiring me to go to graduate school. The one non-human in this group is a small bird known to people as BG/RS, after the blue, green, red, and silver colored leg bands identifying him among a color-banded population of Wrentits at Palomarin Field Station. BG/RS was banded in 2002 and, along with thousands of other birds, has been studied in PRBO's long-term monitoring research. His was the first nest I found as an intern in 2006—a long and challenging effort and a deeply rewarding lesson in observation, patience, and perseverance. Almost completely built, expertly hidden, and soundly constructed: to me the nest was a little piece of art.

"Over time, the breeding behavior of BG/RS and many other birds at Palomarin has generated a wealth of questions for me. How do birds identify and choose appropriate habitat? How does habitat change affect bird populations? In this study area, we are able to directly study the decisions of organisms in the wild and measure the consequences of those decisions.

"Along with access to a one-of-a-kind dataset and a fascinating study area, working at Palomarin provides the opportunity for me to learn from the PRBO staff. PRBO biologists exemplify the qualities I believe are essential to advancing avian ecology and conservation—a deep appreciation for natural history, a commitment to scientific inquiry, an endless curiosity for ecological questions, and dedication to conservation of natural systems.

"Ultimately, I will use the knowledge and experience gained in graduate school to design and implement research projects through which I can incorporate collaborative and educational opportunities. The success of conservation is contingent upon conducting compelling research and effectively communicating the implications of these findings to policy-makers, managers, and the public. The scientists that have inspired me the most are those who achieve both of these ends."

Rachel E. Fontana
Rachel Fontana.

Works at Bodega Marine Lab on oceanographic research with PRBO's Marine Ecology Division.

Now in her fourth year of work toward a PhD in Marine Ecology at University of California, Davis. Advisor: Dr. John L. Largier. GK-12 National Science Foundation Fellowship (present) and California Sea Grant Traineeship, 2006–08.

Focus of research: Within the biologically dynamic northern California coastal upwelling systems, how do "fronts" function? Fronts are zones where two distinct water bodies meet. Of interest are their location, persistence, predictability, and associated biological activity.

In Rachel's own words:

"One thing to know about me: I love water. As a child, I was the one who never got out of the pool, pond, lake, or ocean. I was always curious about the sea, including everything that lives in it. By the time I was eight years old, I had decided that I wanted to work on the ocean. At age 15, I learned how to SCUBA dive. By the time I entered college, my career path in marine science was firmly in place. That was also when I became aware of the lack of knowledge about our world's oceans and about various conservation issues associated with direct and indirect human impacts on ocean life. My research interests combine my love of the ocean with a search to enhance knowledge, with the potential to support better stewardship of our ocean's valuable resources. Linking various science disciplines in order to study coastal ecosystems is a way for me to combine my passion for the ocean with a career.

"When I first came to PRBO, as a Sea Grant Trainee, my main research interests centered on the link between ocean currents and marine life. My knowledge of seabirds, however, was extremely limited (I did not even know what an albatross was, other than a really large bird). This began to change on my first research cruise with PRBO, where I gleaned many fun, interesting, and relevant facts about seabirds. Jaime Jahncke and others at PRBO have given me information that has broadened my research interests and knowledge base, and my knowledge of seabirds is ever expanding.

"Though I am not sure of the exact career path I would like to follow, I am interested in teaching, continuing research on coastal oceanography and ecology, and becoming involved in ocean policy. "

Rae Goodman
Rae Goodman.

Works with data from four decades of landbird monitoring study at Palomarin Field Station (Terrestrial Ecology Division).

Pursuing a Masters of Science degree in biology, with a concentration in ecology, at San Francisco State University. Advisor: Dr. Gretchen LeBuhn. Fellowships include a NSF TREE (Training and Research in Ecology and Evolution) Fellowship.
A PRBO intern measures the wing of a Steller's Jay, adding to four decades of data that reveal change over time. PRBO photo.

Focus of research: Effects of climate change on bird body mass and wing length—examining size changes in 28 species over the past 38 years.

In Rae's own words:

"I'm fascinated with the natural world, and I'm interested in finding out how humans are affecting it. Climate change has been shown to have effects on birds' migratory and breeding timing, ranges, and population numbers. Less understood is the effect climate change may be having on birds' body size and weight; this is where my research focuses. Having 38 full years of banding records from PRBO's Palomarin dataset lets me uncover these long-term shifts.

"I love the chance both to do field work and to contribute to the body of knowledge about what conservation work needs to be done. Working with PRBO's exceptional long-term banding data has made it possible for me to tackle a big issue like climate change. It can be difficult to do large-scale work in a short master's program.

"Nat Seavy and Tom Gardali have provided me with invaluable assistance and ideas. The chance to give a lunchtime talk to PRBO science staff let me gain input on my research from people familiar with the banding program and larger context.

"I've always been interested in the crossroads between science, conservation, and the public, whether that's in the form of citizen-science projects, organizations like PRBO, education, or public-advocacy conservation work. I'm working this year part-time as a high school biology teacher, and next year I'll be teaching full-time. I love my students' excitement when they get really fascinated by new knowledge. I'll be looking for more chances to provide hands-on science explorations for students of any age."

Kristin Sesser
Kristin Sesser in the field, surveying for Long-billed Curlews.

Helps collect and analyzes data on Long-billed Curlews in California's Central Valley, with PRBO's Wetlands Ecology Division.

Nearing completion of work on a Masters of Science degree—in natural resources, with a specialization in wildlife—at Humboldt State University. Advisors: Dr. Mark A. Colwell and Dr. Nils D. Warnock.

Focus of research: Space use and habitat selection of Long-billed Curlews in the Central Valley. By putting satellite transmitters on Long-billed Curlews we are amassing unprecedented information on their day-to-day movements and the first in-depth look into how they utilize the Central Valley. Some of these transmitters have been collecting data for three years, giving us a very complete picture of their movements over their annual cycle.
Long-billed Curlew. Photo by Tom Grey.

In Kristin's own words:

"Ever since my parents handed me binoculars and a field guide at the age of eleven, I have been enthralled with the natural world, especially birds. My passion for wildlife and wild places spurred a varied field career that allowed me to live and work in some of North America's most beautiful natural landscapes.

"My interest in shorebirds was first piqued while attending the University of California, Davis, for my Bachelor's degree. I was intrigued by all the shorebirds that made use of the Yolo Bypass and surrounding agricultural areas, and excited by the challenges of identification. My work on shorebird counts in Alaska further fueled my interest in the fantastic migrations, wide array of mating systems, and flight displays of this remarkable group of birds.

"Landscape ecology and spatial analysis have long been interests of mine. When the opportunity arose for me to combine my love of shorebirds and my interest in Geographic Information Systems, I jumped at the chance to participate in a collaborative research project between PRBO, USGS, and Humboldt State University. This has been a valuable opportunity to learn how to study and analyze the movements and habitat relationships of wildlife.

"I plan to continue work and research in wildlife ecology and conservation through a governmental agency or non-profit organization. I am most interested in examining and modeling wildlife–habitat relationships for species or populations of conservation concern."