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Ecologists Educators and Schools:Partners in GK-12 Education

PhD Fellows 2004-2005

Margie Kinnersley


Margie Kinnersley

My interest in the biological sciences began as a child and was nurtured by my father and by a dedicated high school biology teacher. When I started college in 1992, I intended to go into anthropology. My curiosity in the use of molecular data (DNA sequences) to study human origins prompted me to volunteer in a number of different laboratories that specialized in phylogenetics (the study of relatedness using DNA sequences) as an undergraduate. My research focus gradually shifted from primate evolution to invertebrate evolution, and ultimately to the experimental evolution of microbial populations.

In 1998, I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and subsequently began a PhD program in Zoology at the University of Idaho . In 2000, I transferred to The University of Florida and then followed my current lab group to the University of Montana in 2001. At the University of Montana , I had the opportunity to interact with the faculty and students of the microbial ecology program, and they have ignited my interest in the intersection of microbial evolution and ecology.

Currently I am working on the manufacture and use of microarrays to study evolutionary changes that occur in experimental populations of E. coli . My dissertation work will focus on the nature in which populations diverge upon their establishment in various novel environments.

Advisor: Dr. Frank Rosenzweig, Division of Biological Sciences


Rachel Loehman


Rachel Loehman

I came to Missoula four years ago as a PhD student in the College of Forestry and Conservation to study under Dr. Steven Running as a part of the Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group (NTSG). NTSG is a remote sensing and ecological modeling lab that focuses on pioneering new approaches for addressing regional ecological problems using emerging satellite technologies, geographic information systems (GIS), computer simulation and visualization, and biophysical theory. My own research is on developing ways to predict vector-borne diseases using remotely sensed data and climate modeling. My current focus is on developing a forecast model for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), based on modeled distributions of the disease reservoir and vector, the deer mouse.

I grew up in New Mexico , and have a B.A. in Archaeology and an M.A. in Biogeography from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque . I spent a number of years working as an archaeologist across the southwestern US, and became interested in using GIS and modeling to predict archaeological site distributions. While working toward my M.A. degree I began to use GIS and remote sensing technologies to address ecological problems, specifically temporal variability and spatial patterning in biotic and abiotic resources at regional scales. For my Master's thesis I developed a large-scale predictive model for HPS based on distribution of human cases in the Four Corners region of the southwest. Here at the University of Montana I am working to improve this model, using a more sophisticated remote sensing data set and incorporating vector (deer mouse) population dynamics. My research is interesting to me because it is very interdisciplinary, and integrates a number of fascinating areas of research: wildlife biology, landscape ecology, epidemiology, climatology, remote sensing and GIS, public policy, public health, and education.

My interests outside of academia include backpacking, skiing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, bicycling, and exploring. I love the outdoors, and believe strongly in the importance of conservation of natural resources and wild places. I hope to use my training and skills to work toward better stewardship and increased awareness of our natural heritage.

Advisor: Dr. Steven Running, College of Forestry and Conservation


Tammy Mildenstein


Tammy Mildenstein

As a kid in Iowa , I grew up fascinated with nature. Both of my parents are very nature-oriented, and all of our family vacations involved outdoorsy trips like canoeing, hiking, and camping. Although I had always spent my free time exploring the environment, when it came time for me to decide what to study in college, it never occurred to me that I could actually make this hobby my career. Instead, I ended up trying to make the most of my science skills by studying engineering at Iowa State University .

After I got my BS degree, I worked for 5 years as an electrical engineer for a large corporation. During this time, I realized that while I thrived in a scientific field, I wanted to apply my skills in a way that was more beneficial for the environment. I decided to go back to school in Wildlife Biology and do my master's research overseas in a country that really needed help in developing their conservation management strategies.

As part of my master's program at the University of Montana , I did my research as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines . This is a biodiverse country that has undergone a high degree of environmental degradation but has very little focus on conservation. During my four years in the Philippines , I was one of the only biologists for hundreds of kilometers. I realized early on, that if I were to going to have any impact on the conservation of wildlife where I was living, I would need to choose an important topic and include educating Filipinos about the environment as part of my work. I chose to study two endangered species of flying-foxes for my work, because these were hunted animals that played important ecological roles in the rainforest. I included Filipino students as field assistants and spent a lot of time promoting hunter education. As a result, there is now a network of flying-fox managers in the Philippines monitoring their endangered flying-foxes. I am continuing to support their efforts by focusing my PhD. on the conservation management of the flying-foxes.

Advisor: Dr. Scott Mills, College of Forestry and Conservation


David Nicholas


David Nicholas

My interest in ecology stems from the simple allure of understanding the natural world. As a child, I spent countless carefree hours catching frogs, crawdads, snakes, blue jays, squirrels, spiders and scorpions. My aim as an adult has been to fashion that recreation into a career.

I graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in anthropology. I then joined the US Forest Service, spending three years as an archaeologist and two as a wildlife biologist. Deciding that I preferred biology to archaeology and realizing that I wanted to teach, I enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno, and began studying for a teaching certificate in biology. Near accreditation, I became inspired by my ornithology instructor to pursue a PhD in zoology. I wanted to teach, to be sure, but she made me realize that I still had lots of unanswered questions.

I have moved around quite a bit with my current lab group, from the University of Idaho to the University of Florida to here. In that time, I have focused on topics such as the evolution of aging and the evolution of alternative reproductive strategies. I have also served as a teaching assistant in biology, zoology, invertebrate zoology, clinical microbiology and microbial physiology. Here at the University of Montana I study microbial ecology, and my thesis work investigates the cycling of arsenic by bacteria in contaminated lakes and reservoirs. My current funding has me looking at the microbiology of a mining-impacted lake in Ontario, Canada, with the goal being that I provide some sound advice as to how to ameliorate a pretty serious problem of arsenic in the water.

My intention to return to the classroom remains, so I am especially pleased with the launch of the ECOS Program here at UM. It is going to put me back into a position of really teaching, and that's one of the few things I'm genuinely good at.

Advisor: Dr. Frank Rosenzweig, Division of Biological Sciences



Megan Parker

Megan Parker

I grew up in Missoula , near the University, where my dad was a professor. My parents spent a lot of their free time outdoors and were generous in sharing their love of wild places with their kids. We spent our summers hiking, swimming, canoeing and exploring Montana, where an interest in wild plants and animals took root. I spent hours behind the University, where Dr. John Craighead kept eagles and hawks - and where I was first captivated with birds of prey and wildlife biology.

Although I wanted to become a wildlife biologist, I went to Middlebury College in Vermont , where I majored in Art and Biology. I spent half of a year at the University of Virginia in a Landscape Architecture program, where I decided it was the wrong career, and to confirm that, I moved to New York City to work for a high-class architectural firm. I rescued myself by applying for a job with the Peregrine Fund and went to Boise State University to receive my Master's degree in Raptor Ecology. During my master's research I was lucky to work in the rainforests of Guatemala , studying two species of falcons - the laughing falcon which specializes in snakes, and the bat falcon, that eats bats, butterflies and small birds.

My appreciation for wild places and the animals they protect continued to grow and I returned to the Rocky Mountains to work on the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park and Central Idaho. From there, my interest in social mammals took over and I joined a project in northern Botswana in Southern Africa , studying one of the most social of all carnivores, African wild dogs. I study their movements, scent marking behavior, scent mark chemistry and ranging habits. I am focusing on manipulating the placement of territorial scent marks to help conserve this endangered species to limit their encounters with livestock, domestic dog diseases and automobiles. This work is the basis of my Ph.D. in the department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences at the University. I'm back home, but still able to travel abroad to wild places across the world.

Advisor: Dr. Erick Greene, Division of Biological Sciences



Jeff Piotrowski

Jeff Piotrowoski

I was raised in the Salt Marshes of coastal Georgia and from an early age had a strong interest in the natural world, in particular plants and fungi. Southeastern salt marshes are among the most productive systems on earth. At age 13 I would peddle my bike to across the island at midnight to look for sea turtles or the rare Green fly orchid. It was this environment gave me an appreciation for the natural world.

I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia in Botany. UGA was home to the late Eugene Odum, a pioneer of ecological research, who gave several lectures to my introductory Ecology class. He always stressed the importance of teaching more comprehensive ecology to students at the pre-college levels. I worked in the fungal ecology lab of Dr. David Porter on the decomposer communities of the salt marsh. David Porter was a great mentor who encouraged me to follow my interests no matter how obscure. During my time in there I spent most weekends in the southern Appalachian Mountains , an environment with some of the greatest deciduous tree diversity and the greatest amphibian diversity.

Upon graduation from Georgia I took a position at the University of Maine with Dr. Joyce Longcore studying a fungal pathogen of amphibians responsible of several extinctions. I studied the environmental conditions of the fungus to help amphibian biologists predict and model outbreaks and I studied the enzyme production of the fungus to learn how it kills its host. Maine is a pristine state that is 20% wetlands, which I explored with all my free time.

After receiving my Master's in Botany/ Plant Pathology from Maine I worked at the University of Georgia 's Herbarium where I gained a greater appreciation for plant diversity. Before taking my current position at the University of Montana I traveled through Europe working on organic farms with my fiancé and learning the importance of sustainable agriculture. I am currently working in the lab of Dr. Matthias Rillig where I am studying the ecology of arbuscular mycorrhizal communities for my PhD.

Advisor: Dr. Matthias Rillig, Division of Biological Sciences



Wendy Ridenour

Wendy Ridenour

I have been interested in ecology for as long as I can remember. I started hiking on the Appalachian Trail with my family at the age of three, and my Grandparents and my Mother started me out as a naturalist by teaching me about the plants and birds we'd see along the trail. When I was 6, a naturalist visited our school several times, and I decided right then and there that I would love to teach ecology. As an undergraduate, I studied ecology and natural history, including scientific illustration, at the University of California , Santa Cruz. I was awarded a M.S. in Organismal Biology and Ecology (OBE) from The University of Montana in 1995, and am currently pursuing my PhD in OBE here at The University of Montana. I am a plant community ecologist, and my research in Dr. Ragan Callaway's lab involves the invasive weed, knapweed. I am interested in studying mechanisms of knapweed invasion into our local native prairies, and why the human introduction of some plant species results in astounding increases in their abundances and competitive effects. I have a diversity of teaching experience, including my recent work with Missoula 's K-12 schools through the Montana Natural History Center as their first "Visiting Naturalist". This position involved designing curriculum, coordinating visits with teachers and volunteers, and teaching experiential science and ecological education both in the classroom, and in the outdoor "classroom". I have also taught ecology, natural history, and outdoor adventure curriculum to at-risk and adjudicated youth in an outdoor setting; college biology and ecology as both a teaching assistant at The University of Montana and as an adjunct professor at Montgomery Community College in Maryland ; and I have designed, taught, and directed numerous outdoor adventure and science summer camps. I love teaching, ecological research, and "getting out there", and am always looking forward to more of just that!

Advisor: Dr. Ragan Callaway, Division of Biological Sciences



Carl Rosier

Carl Rosier

From an early age I knew that I wanted to study science. As a child I would often take long hikes through the swamps that bordered my granddads farm. Many times during those adventures I would find some creature that intrigued, and I would bring it home study it for awhile then release it. I was first exposed to the science of ecology during my 8 th grade year. It was at this time that several middle schools competed in the ECO challenge: which was a competition designed by the Florida Natural Parks System to test students' knowledge of natural history and ecology. I was accepted to the ECO team that represented my school. Following the competition my science teacher told me I had a real knack for science and that I should actively pursue this subject in high school as well as college.

I received my undergraduate degree in plant science from the University of California Santa Cruz. I first became interested in plants while taking and introductory class in Botany/Plant Pathology. After spending many hours discussing plants with the course professor he offered me a job. I found Plant Pathology incredibly interesting so much so that when I graduated from UCSC I began to apply to plant pathology graduate programs. Eventually I was accepted into a graduate program

After graduating from UCSC and before entering graduate school I moved to Missoula in search of adventure. Eventually I accepted a position with Bitterroot Restoration Inc, as a consultant. I felt that the work I was doing had real importance so I delayed my entrance into graduate school. As a land restoration consultant I saw how pollution is severely influencing ecosystems. At a conference on land restoration I first learned about phytoremediation (use of plants to remove pollutants from contaminated areas). I became so intrigued with the idea of using plants to cleanup the environment, that I quit my job and applied to graduate school. Currently I am studying in the lab of Dr. Rillig, the focus of my study is determining how Arbuscular Mycorrhizal fungi influence the phytoremediation of radionuclides.

Advisor: Dr. Matthias Rillig, Division of Biological Sciences



Andrew Whiteley

Andrew Whiteley

I study the ecology and genetics of fish, in particular mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni) and bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), fish species that occur here in western Montana. I became interested in studying fish ecology when I was young, when I would go fishing in Maine with my parents and grandparents. I especially remember being fascinated by dissecting their stomachs to figure out what the fish were eating. When I was in high school I found that I really loved biology, thanks to one of my first biology teachers, Mrs. Brough. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University (near Chicago ), I worked in a molecular biology laboratory where part of my job was taking care of zebrafish. I realized then that I could combine my interests in fish with my desire to study biology.

After I graduated from college, I worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in southwestern Alaska. I lived in a remote field camp where we studied native rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Dolly Varden char (Salvelinus malma , close relatives of bull trout), and Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.). The fish in these remote rivers fascinated me and I wanted to learn all about them. I realized that in the future I wanted to combine the study of fish ecology with the genetic principles I learned as an undergraduate. In addition, I realized I wanted to study natural populations of fish with the end goal of conserving these populations into the future, both as a graduate student and throughout my career.

As a graduate student at the University of Montana , I am working on a project where I determine patterns of genetic relatedness among populations of both mountain whitefish and bull trout. I am also trying to determine if the huge pinocchio snout that some mountain whitefish have is related to the food they eat, if it helps them attract mates, or both. For the first part of this, I analyze how many and what types of insects mountain whitefish with different snout sizes eat. So, in a way, I have come full circle back to my childhood, when I was dissecting stomachs of fish.

Advisor: Dr. Fred Allendorf, Division of Biological Sciences



Jennifer Woolf

Jennifer Woolf

I lived in rural Missouri (Ozarks) during elementary school and spent a great deal of time exploring the woods by myself. I think this time had a great influence on my eventual path in biology. I enrolled in an honors Ecology course as a freshman at the University of Florida that solidified my interest in ecology. The course included weekly field assignments and a 6-week field assignment that opened up an entire world of questions to me. I received my Associate of Arts degree from the University of Florida and decided to transfer to Oregon State University to complete my Wildlife Science degree. During my tenure at OSU, I gained exciting field experiences in remote locations in Alaska and was fortunate to spend time working with spotted owls after graduating. I decided University of Montana would be a great place to attend graduate school and moved to Missoula and began developing relationships with professors working on topics I was interested in. While I was waiting for the right graduate project to come up, I began working for the Forest Service in Missoula on the Forest Plan Revision team, focusing on fisheries and hydrology issues. This position developed into incredibly diverse tasks allowing me to participate in many aspects of forest planning and management, including direct involvement in writing biological assessments for proposed projects. Over time, my experiences have helped me decide how my skills can contribute to conservation most effectively. My Master's research at The University of Montana focused on wildlife responses to thinning and prescribed burning, a more and more common forest treatment. I recently began a PhD. that will focus on fire-associated species, and how their populations may require different management techniques. I plan to continue to conduct conservation related research that can be successfully applied to management issues.

Advisor: Dr. Fred Allendorf, Division of Biological Sciences and Dr. Diana Six, College of Forestry and Conservation



The ECOS program is sponsored by the University of Montana's Division of Biological Sciences, and the College of Forestry and Conservation.

Carol Brewer Program Director, Division of Biological Sciences Paul Alaback Program Co-Director, College of Forestry and Conservation

Funded by the National Science Foundation
ECOS is supported by the GK-12 Program of the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.