Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Literature Search

I finished (or so I thought) my comprehensive list of chameleons. I collected name, common name, known countries and where I found the info. Next up was to work on digging up some literature to support and give locations of these. YIKES!! Much bigger job than I ever expected.

I spent many many hours one night just poking around and I ran into big fat brick walls. Several of the papers are written in German (I can read Danish NOT German!). Many are published in German Journals or in random small African Journals the KU library doesn't subscribe to. The ones I could read had a lot of sketchy location descriptions such as "one possible male found on a tree on the side of X mountain." Wha??? I decided at the end of the night maybe it was time for a chat with Neil to see if there was a better approach to take for now.

Over several emails back and forth and a phone chat we have come up with a few different goals for me to work on over the next few weeks.
  • Meet up with Louis Hansen at the Zoologisk/Zoological Museum. He is THE map guy and has generously offered his time and talents to help me get started mapping. He has also offered to help me dig up some information in their library on reptiles.
  • Rework my species list with a template provided by IUCN. They will verify and validate my info once I have it in the proper format so we have the most up to date accepted list of species.
  • Neil has agreed to be trained on the IUCN Species Information System which he will then come back and teach me and others how to use.
  • Help Neil come up with a flyer to put around school advertising our project to prospective students. He envisions this becoming a fantastic research group we just need more students to come join me.
Overall this has been a pretty exciting week. It's encouraging that so many people are wanting to be involved and help work on this project. It gives me really good vibes that I will be able to get funding to continue my work on this over the next several years. A few other positive tidbits have come up as well but I don't want to say stuff until I know it's a sure thing. Yay for progress! Now I just need to recruit some more students.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I am having to take a week off of the project to work on a paper I have due Oct. 2o for my evolutionary ecology course. At least I am writing on something interesting.... The Maintenance and Evolution of Cheaters. This would be cheaters in the plant, insect and microbe world. I don't know nuttin about human cheaters! If I get a good grade in the course maybe I will share.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tools and Social Networking

Research tools: Currently I am using a program called Bibus to track my references and I am testing out a .pdf highlighter program that you can run through your browser called Marqed. A conservation biologist should try and save trees by not printing out all the 1,000's of journal article pages I need to review, right?

Networking: Just signed up for this Anyone else that joins let me know so we can connect! Here is a link to my page.

Side Note

I should early on state that I did not pick this project because I have some deep and undying love for reptiles. I do like them and I have a particular soft spot for turtles but I actually had other reasons for wanting to work on this particular project. I am very interested in learning GIS and mapping skills because there is a high demand in the conservation job market for these qualifications. I also wanted to work with an international organization, such as Conservation International. Since I have many family obligations (a husband, a two year old, plus I am expecting #2 in Feb. 2010), I wanted a more analytical project versus field work. Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to field work. I love it in fact. But I enjoy spending hours/days in front of the computer and am happy to let other people tromp through the mud and deal with leeches to collect data for me. Plus I just like the big picture stuff.

So when I looked at my personal needs and desires and the projects available, this one just fit!

The Project Description

I don't have an official written out project description. Yet. But this is the description that got this whole thing started:

Species mapping projects

Over the past 10 years various people in Denmark have been involved in the work of mapping species distributions in Africa. This has entailed producing maps of all species of birds, mammals, snakes and amphibians. And a selection of plants. This work has been concluded for the time being, but there are a number of potential student projects that would be good to see happening:

  • African reptile mapping. The distribution of snakes and chelonians has already been mapped in Denmark. But there are a large number of other reptile groups that are found in Africa and which are not yet mapped in any meaningful way. A number of Masters level projects could be devised that look at mapping the distribution of different reptile groups, and analyzing the distribution patterns that result, potentially comparing these to the patterns seen in other taxonomic groups. These projects would be based on the literature available and also on some data compilation work that has already been completed by Conservation International.

Since accepting this project, we have had a meeting with Conservation International. As it turns out, they are beginning a Global Reptile Assessment similar to the ones they have done with Amphibians and Mammals. The point of the project is to collect as much information about the various reptile families around the world and go through them species by species and assess the populations. The information will then be used by the Species Survival Commission to assess the threat level and add them to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

And what is the best part of all of this? My department and adviser have expertise in East Africa. And who has a massive collection of East African snake maps (like 400+ maps)? Copenhagen University. And where does IUCN need the help? East Africa. So if all goes as we plan we will be the experts for East African reptiles. Yehaw!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Beginning

I have decided to split up my blogging even further and decided to create a blog just to follow my academic pursuits. I have started a journey that will hopefully take me to a PhD. and beyond. And I will most likely be working with the same or a similar project that I am currently engaged in. As a warning this blog will not be for everyone. It will be very heavy on the science and theory. I am not doing this to teach anyone how to do this. I just want to share my academic trials and tribulations. If you want a watered down version just stick with my fluff blog.

But first let's rewind a little to see how I got to this point. In 1997, I finished a BSc. in Biology from the University of South Carolina Upstate, did a bunch of field work and haven't done anything with my degree since. As a matter of fact, I went about as far from biology as you can get. I have worked in the music business, published a magazine, managed an independent bookstore, was a freelance journalist, and did promotional field marketing for several large companies. Then I moved to Denmark and started a family. Jobs in my field of expertise are hard to come by if you don't speak Danish so I decided to go back to my roots. This past February (2009), I enrolled in the MSc. Biology program at Copenhagen University.

I didn't know what I wanted to do in biology and my class choices were limited to those that were offered in English. I thought that working in Biomedicine could be interesting so I took a physiology course. OMG that course kicked my ass and I barely passed. However, I didn't know what else I wanted to do, so I stuck with it and took an experimental physiology and cell biology course next. It was hard but fun and I learned so much. But at the end of the course I knew this was not the place for me. Over the summer I decided to cut my losses and go back to my roots. The Ecology and Evolution section looked really interesting and I thought, maybe this is where I belong.

I am just finishing a course called Evolutionary Ecology and it has been amazing. I know this is exactly the section of biology I should have been in all along. Now it was time to start looking for an adviser and a project to work on. The University had just hired a new professor in Conservation Biology from Cambridge. He had been working on some projects off and on with KU but now they have him for the next 5 years to build a conservation bio program. Weeeee! Now that is exactly what I have been looking for! I met with the professor, Neil Burgess, and we hit it off. He sent me a proposed project list to look over and see if there was anything there I wanted to do.

I was immediately drawn to a project about reptile mapping in Africa. I wasn't excited because of the reptiles but because I am really interested in species distribution and learning some GIS and mapping skills. One thing led to another and now it seems this will be a project I will be working on for the next few years.

Next post will outline my project and where I am with the research.