By: Caitlin May
Caitlin May is a senior studying Biology with a concentration in Wildlife Biology & Conservation and a minor in Spanish. Caitlin has always loved wildlife and the outdoors! After graduating, Caitlin plans to go to graduate school to further study wildlife biology and conservation in the context of human-wildlife interactions.
Tell us a little bit about your thesis project and research process
My thesis explores the Theory of Island Biogeography. Basically, this idea states that islands that are closer to the mainland and larger in size are more likely to have a high number of animal species. This normally applies to oceanic islands, but I’m taking a look at how it applies to woodland habitat “islands” in Indiana’s agricultural landscape. My research will hopefully help determine if larger and less isolated woodland habitat islands contain more animal species than smaller and more isolated islands.
During Fall 2020, I spent eight weekends setting up motion-sensor trail cameras in nine woodland properties in the greater Muncie area. I used peanut butter and oats as a bait in an effort to lure as many species as possible to the area to be captured by the cameras. After completing my data collection, I went through all of the photos (close to 7,000!) to determine how many different species were in each property.
What inspired you to pursue this thesis topic?
I wanted to pursue this thesis topic because one of my research interests is human-wildlife interaction. Human-caused habitat fragmentation is one of the primary causes for creation of these habitat islands, so it’s important to see how our actions may be impacting the species populations within these areas. My advisor, Dr. Tim Carter, was also interested in looking at this subject and suggested using trail cameras as a relatively non-invasive way of assessing the areas.
What was your favorite part of the thesis process? What challenged you?
One of my favorite parts of this project was conducting the field work and traveling to all of my different field sites. I got to see parts of Muncie that I never knew about and even discovered a few new favorite hiking spots! However, it was definitely challenging dealing with weather and faulty equipment.
What advice would you give to other Honors students working on their theses?
I would advise other Honors students to focus more on your research process and not just the results. It’s easy to get side-tracked and focus solely on the end product, but you’ll learn a lot more by focusing on the journey. It’s also important to remember that you may not get the results you were hoping for, but that’s okay! Mistakes are part of the learning process and sometimes you learn more from getting unexpected results than if your data perfectly matches your prediction.
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