Rebecca Haynes, 2015, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
I spent the summer of 2013 on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. The dense, biologically diverse rainforest where I lived was the perfect place to study the conservation of jaguars, pumas, and ocelots, whose populations have decreased in size and range due to poaching and destruction of habitat. I investigated this problem by studying both the forest and the people living around it. I set up motion-sensored camera traps to take photos of animals in the area, estimating the community composition of the forest, and comparing the data collected on my cameras to the data of another researcher. I also interviewed local Costa Ricans, with a focus on farmers, to see how they felt about the presence of wild cats near their farms and homes. Understanding problems and attitudes surrounding human-wildlife conflict is central to the conservation of endangered species in the area. Immersed in a new ecosystem, I gained invaluable experience conducting scientific research and learning about social problems of conservation first-hand. I will spend this year analyzing my data and writing up results. I may continue similar work next summer for my senior thesis, hoping to continue on the path to a career in ecological conservation.