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UW Haub School Undergraduate Is Lead Author of New Study Characterizing Ecological Role of American Badgers

August 17, 2021
woman standing outside
Megan Andersen, a recent graduate of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, is the lead author of a new study that explores the ecological role of American badgers. The study appeared in the July issue of the journal Ecology and Evolution. (Megan Andersen Photo)

A recent graduate of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources is the lead author of a new study that explores the ecological role of American badgers.

Megan Andersen, of Sturgis, S.D., completed the research as part of a summer internship in the Haub School. She worked on a project led by Haub School faculty members Drew Bennett, the Whitney MacMillan Professor of Practice of Private Lands Stewardship, and Joe Holbrook, an assistant professor of carnivore and habitat ecology, who holds a joint appointment in the UW Department of Zoology and Physiology.

The article, titled “Burrow webs: Clawing the surface of interactions with burrows excavated by American badgers,” appeared in the July edition of the journal Ecology and Evolution, a peer-reviewed open access journal that publishes twice per month.

“The whole experience of writing and publishing scientific research was entirely new to me,” Andersen says. “I would have been lost without the help of Joe and Drew. They guided me through the entire process and set me up with all of the tools I needed to be successful. I learned new skills and writing techniques at every stage of the process.”

Starting in summer 2019, Andersen interned on the Working Lands and Wildlife project, which was led by Bennett and Holbrook. Using a network of game cameras deployed on ranches in western Wyoming -- near Meeteetsee and Pinedale -- the project aimed to characterize how wildlife occupy private working lands.

Andersen’s role was to build relationships with partnering landowners; set up and maintain the cameras; and analyze the images. The recently published manuscript grew out of the project and examines how other wildlife species use underground dwellings created by badgers. After analyzing more than 33,000 images, the team identified -- other than badgers -- a total of 31 species, including 12 species of mammals, 18 species of birds and one reptile species.

a badger beside its burrow
This badger, captured by a game camera on a private ranch in western Wyoming, was part of a new study conducted by UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. (Megan Andersen, Drew Bennett and Joe Holbrook Photo)

“Megan is a perfect example of how young scientists can have an impact on the discipline, even at the undergraduate level,” says Holbrook, one of the study’s co-authors and Andersen’s adviser on the project. “Her research skills are stellar, and we are proud to see her get this publication under her belt. I have no doubt that she’ll do great things in the future.”

“For the first time in my research career, people have access to all of the information I have compiled on an influential topic,” Andersen says. “Now, I just hope someone comes across our publication and is inspired to perform their own research, whether it be on badgers or something else that the world needs to know.”

Andersen graduated from UW in December 2020 with majors in environmental systems science and environment and natural resources, and minors in honors, soil science, and reclamation and restoration ecology. She will begin a graduate program in land and atmospheric science at the University of Minnesota this fall, where she plans to study permafrost-affected soils in Alaska.

“I’ve always found scientific research fascinating, but getting the opportunity to spark fascination in the minds of readers -- that’s what science is all about,” Andersen says.

The Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at UW offers interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate degrees that educate future leaders to address environment and natural resource challenges and create sustainable futures. For more information, go to www.uwyo.edu/haub.

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