SEFS Students Lead Doris Duke Scholars into the Field

This summer, a cohort of undergraduates from around the country spent two months at the University of Washington working on various research projects as part of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, an experiential learning program that aims to build more diversity and inclusion in the conservation community.

As part of the two-year program, Doris Duke Scholars spend their second summer working as interns with UW graduate students, and this year two SEFS doctoral students—Caitlin Littlefield and Clint Robins—served as mentors for five interns. They guided their students through eight weeks of rigorous hands-on field research, and then, on Wednesday, August 10, those interns joined others from their cohort and presented posters of their research at a culminating summit in the Fishery Sciences Building.

SEFS alumnus Brian Kertson (’01, B.S.; ’05, M.S.; ’10, Ph.D.), left, helped guide the project along with Niki, Clint and Kyle.

SEFS alumnus Brian Kertson (’01, B.S.; ’05, M.S.; ’10, Ph.D.), left, helped guide the project along with Niki, Clint and Kyle.

Caitlin mentored three interns—Alicia Juang from Harvard, Savannah Steinly from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Ethan Bott from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point—and she led them to the Methow Valley to study how terrain-driven climate variability influences patterns of forest recovery. Focusing on the 2006 Tripod fire, which burned more than 70,000 hectares north of Winthrop, Wash., their crew measured thousands of juvenile conifers, deployed temperature and relative humidity data loggers, and ate plenty of ice cream. The interns each carved out an independent research project, which they showcased at the final summit: Alicia assessed how erosion potential influences conifer recovery; Savannah processed dozens of soil samples to characterize how soil properties vary across the study area; and Ethan assessed how well indices derived from remotely sensed imagery can predict conifer recovery.

Near Issaquah, Clint was working with two other Doris Duke Scholars, Niki Love from Cornell, and Kyle Mabie from Colorado State. They spent their summer studying cougar (Puma concolor) foraging behavior under the auspices of the West Cascades Cougar Project. Niki’s project focused on edge effects, and the degree to which habitat transitions were correlated with successful cougar kills. Kyle compared kill site habitats between individual cougars to determine whether different cougars use different forest types when hunting prey. Due to the nature of data collection for their projects, as well, both interns were consistently able to work together in the field.

It’s great to see our students so involved in the Doris Duke program, helping train future scientists and expanding the voices and perspectives in the conservation movement!

Photo of Clint with interns © SEFS; photo of Caitlin in the field © Caitlin Littlefield.

Caitlin, left, with her interns Alicia, Ethan and Savannah.

Caitlin, left, with her interns Alicia, Ethan and Savannah.