Students' work is 'for the birds'

  Thursday, January 25, 2018 2:00 AM
  People and Society, News

Pittsburg, KS

Students' work is 'for the birds'

Three students seeking graduate degrees in biology at PSU will be the featured presesnters at tonight's Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society meeting on campus.

From the Ozarks to urban areas, their research, they say, is for the birds.

In fact, the opportunity to study birds in unique ways is why the three chose PSU for their advanced degrees. 

Student Katie McMurry, who earned her undergraduate degree in biology from PSU in 2016, wanted to stick around for two more years for the chance to study with Christine Brodsky. An assistant professor, Brodsky's work in urban and avian ecology has gained media attention as far away as Baltimore, Maryland, where she's worked with public schools to study bird habitat. 

Students Michael Barnes, a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and David Hollie, a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, had their sights set on doing research for the Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystems Project, or MOFEP. The 100-year-old data collection project began in 1991 across three counties in Southwestern Missouri. 

One of the most comprehensive forest management studies in North America, it is based on one question: How can foresters best manage forests to provide wood products as well as benefit wildlife, provide for public recreation, and keep forests healthy for the long-term? Among the project's goals: to gather data about the effects of the region's heavy tree harvesting on migratory songbirds. 

The reputation of Andrew George, an assistant professor whose post-doctoral work was part of that study, was what drew Barnes and Hollie to PSU. 

"I wanted more research experience, and his track record brought me here," Barnes said of George. "And there are lots of opportunities to help undergrad students here; I taught an ELS course last semester." 

Hollie ultimately hopes to teach or work for an NGO or perhaps the Nature Conservancy, while Barnes wants to teach one day at the university level. 

George, in turn, said he is learning from the two students. 

"David is a world-class birder and photographer on eBird, and Michael has a great deal of knowledge in gray bats so is helping me with an ongoing research project related to that," George said. "We're learning from each other. They're outstanding students, and we're fortunate to have them here." 

McMurry, meanwhile, has been assisting Brodsky in conducting research on ecology at a residential scale, looking at how property owners impact birds and butterflies, specifically. 

"What is the implication of their management practices on the environment?" McMurry said she wanted to know. 

McMurry would like to leverage her degree and experience to one day work as a naturalist, perhaps at a state or national park. 

The three students are eager to share what they're doing and what they've found so far during their presentation tonight. 

"We hope a wide range of people show up," McMurry said. "I'd like for there to be some who are serious about habitats in their own yards, and those who don't do much at all but would like to learn more, and every type of person in between." 

The presentation will be at 7 p.m. in Room 102 of Yates Hall, 1702 S. Joplin St. It is free and open to the public.