24 May Looking Forward to My Summer at Dinosaur National Monument
Beginning later this summer, I will be working as the resource monitoring and communications LHIP intern at Dinosaur National Monument. Dinosaur is 200,000 acres spanning Eastern Utah and Western Colorado. It is of course named for its abundant dinosaur fossils from the late Jurassic period. While visitors will certainly be attracted to the 1,500 fossils present in the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry, Dinosaur also has diverse wildlife and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. I grew up in Northcentral Montana hiking, camping, fishing, watching wildlife, biking, and canoeing. I look forward to the chance to do all of this while working and while enjoying in my free time at Dinosaur.
In my resource monitoring role, I will focus on conservation biology field research on monarch butterflies. My internship runs from late July to mid-October so that it coincides with the expected migration of Western monarchs through Dinosaur and surrounding areas. I will survey the abundances of eggs, adult monarchs, and the milkweed plants that caterpillar monarchs eat. When catching adults, I will also apply small tags to help track the butterflies’ migration and I’ll take swabs of their abdomens for analysis for parasitic infection. My work will be important because Western monarch butterflies’ migration patterns have not been studied as well as Eastern monarch migrations. The research I do this summer and fall will improve our understanding of the fascinating monarch butterfly ecology and migration. Additionally, monarch butterflies are currently under review for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The data I produce will be important to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as it makes a decision on whether to list Western monarchs as threatened or endangered.
In previous summer experiences, I have performed other types of field work. As a high school student, I interned one summer with Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks. During that summer, I worked at a trout hatchery and I surveyed wild fish around the state. During college at Princeton University, I studied ecology and evolutionary biology and performed lots of field research for courses and my independent research. For my research, I spent two summers in Kenya studying parasitic infection in two species of zebras. Working at Dinosaur will be a completely different experience in a totally new place, but I hope that the skills I have built working in the field and my knowledge of ecology and conservation biology will aide me this summer. Ultimately, my goal is to work in wildlife conservation. This summer, I think I will be doing just that, so I very grateful for this opportunity.
To learn more about monarch butterfly ecology and conservation, I would recommend checking out the online sites of the Monarch Joint Ventureor the Southwest Monarch Study. I will be studying the abundant resources created by these organizations and others to prepare myself for my work at Dinosaur. Armed with a good background on monarchs, I aim to be the best butterfly researcher and educator I can be. The second aspect of my internship – science communication – will be vital for educating Dinosaur’s visitors, some of who will work as “citizen scientists” that help with monarch research. I will be excited to discuss these roles in my next blog post.