into new worlds: research on whooping cranes begins

Yesterday I finally had the privilege of sitting down with my research supervisor and learning about the specifics of the work I would be doing. I will be working with data on the Wood Buffalo Cranes, whose population numbers 505. They migrate annually from their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast where they escape for the winter. Their niche is narrow, meaning that there is only a select amount of habitat that they can occupy and thrive in, and that habitat is threatened by things like climate change and other human disturbances. But, if we can use data to determine what it is about these specific sites that allows the cranes to thrive, we can help expand their habitats by engineering other land that can support them. The team has previously done a lot of research on the site in Texas, but it is my initial thinking that the site in Canada will be the more interesting site to study as that is where they nest, which is one of the more vulnerable parts of an organism’s lifetime.

To think that the work I do might contribute meaningfully to the conservation and protection of an endangered species is overwhelming. I am bursting at the seams with excitement and passion for this project, and I can’t wait to see what comes of it. I feel that this is a step towards the work I am meant to spend my life doing. I can’t help but recall those late nights in my freshman year at Arizona State, where I was nervous of the decisions I had made an unsure of where my life was headed. In my head, I was playing the role of a respected researcher, describing her work on a podcast:

“This is Dr. Erica Kriner, who has spent the past several years of her life making waves in the world of conservation. Can you tell me a little bit about your work, Dr. Kriner?”

“Yes. Currently, I am using satellite imagery and GIS to track the migratory patterns of different bird species to note shifts over time that may be influenced by climate change.”

It was almost rehearsed, after a point. I thought often about the work I wanted to do. Back then the idea was ephemeral, but now it has been made tangible in the most specific of ways. I am nervous; this is technology that I’m not entirely comfortable with, but I feel confident in my ability to learn whatever I need to learn in order to be productive in this work. I know I will, because I have always risen to the challenges that I am passionate about.

For now, my research plan is as follows:

First, I will learn everything there is to learn about whooping cranes. I will learn about the history of their conservation, their biology, and everything we know currently about the niches they occupy. I will collect every scrap of information that I can, so that I can know this creature inside and out.

After I know the creatures as organisms, I will look into their ecosystems. I will look at the research collected at their site in Texas, and I will look at other instances of ecosystems where cranes were able to thrive. I will draw out any patterns that I find and focus on the ones that feel most relevant.

Finally, I will work specifically to document the nuances of the site in Canada. I will note any similarities between it and the site in Texas, as well as try to discern the differences that may be useful with regard to the varying functions of these locations.

This is strictly a preliminary plan, and I would imagine that as I delve deeper into the subject, my own line of questioning will shift and I will fall down various different paths in pursuit of answers. But for now, this structure seems to do what I need it to do, and I think it gives me a solid starting point to work with.

Ideally, by the end of my time in this internship, I will care for the whooping cranes in the same way that I care for the rhinos, or the gorillas. By the end of this internship I will have acquired skills that I can take into my own research. And maybe, just maybe, I will be able to speak to my contributions to the protection and revitalization of the whooping crane communities of North America.

Photo Credit to Hemant Kulkarni.

Published by Erica Kriner

Enterprising and enthusiastic student with superior skills in leadership, research and organization. Eager to bring value to my employer through hard work and commitment to precision. Offering demonstrated success in self-driven research through a strong history of quality results.

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