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Meg Kargul: Internship in the South Pacific

Meg Kargul, from Lake Villa, Illinois, received her bachelor’s degree in plant biology and environmental biology from the College of Natural Science in spring 2017.  She is currently in the South Pacific completing a nine-month internship. She plans to attend graduate school when she returns in February.

I began working in a plant biology research lab in summer 2014, following my freshman year at MSU. This summer, I began a nine-month internship with the Ecology of Bird Loss Project in the South Pacific, where we’re investigating the cascading impacts of bird extinction due to predation by the invasive brown tree snake in Guam.

I had heard about the internship through an ecology job Listserv called ECOLOG-L. I was one of three selected for the internship out of a pool of more than 30 applicants.

That first summer in a research lab, I assisted with a graduate student project through MSU’s W.K. Kellogg Biological Station Undergraduate Research Apprentice program while also conducting my own research project. I later presented my findings at MSU’s University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum and was awarded first place in the plant sciences division.

During summer 2015, I was involved with a project in South Carolina, investigating habitat fragmentation and landscape corridors. I also worked as an MSU research assistant, served as an undergraduate learning assistant and developed a new lesson on plant identification for the Biology of Plants course fall semester 2017.

Last year, thanks to a student prize I won, I was able to attend the Michigan Botanical Club Annual Foray. I also spent several days working with the Michigan Nature Association to remove glossy buckthorn — an invasive shrub — from the Goose Creek fen preserve near Jackson, Michigan.

This past spring, I received my degree in plant biology and environmental biology. For the past few months, I have been working on the islands of Guam, Saipan and Rota. One of my main projects here involves mapping the location and diameter at breast height of trees in the forest on each island to see how they differ in species composition with and without the presence of seed dispersal from birds.

Another project I work on looks at how forest communities assemble differently based on forest types including invasive dominated/degraded, mixed native and invasive, and native/undisturbed forests. My typical day involves conducting surveys in the field and collecting data for a variety of projects, trying to avoid being stung by boonie bees, learning as much as I can about the natural history of the forests and islands, and enjoying sunsets at the beach after work. The internship runs through the end of February. After that, I plan to attend graduate school to pursue a career in plant ecology.

My long-term goals are to conduct research on plant ecology and restoration as a professor at a university.

My time at MSU has allowed me to discover this career path, gain firsthand experience in ecological research and create a network of people I’ll be able to work with in the future. My current internship is also allowing me to gain knowledge on a different ecosystem, ask new questions and broaden my skill set.                                                                

Photo: Meg Kargul, a field crew member with the Ecology of Bird Loss Project, is mapping the location and diameter at breast height of trees in the forest on Saipan to learn how the forests differ on islands with and without seed dispersal from birds.She received MSU’s 2017 Department of Plant Biology Undergraduate Bessey Award for Outstanding Senior.