From left, Ian Medeiros ’16, Amber Wolf ’17, Zoe Greenberg ’16, Nina Duggin ’18, Caroline Brown ’17, and Audra McTague ’19 at the annual Northeast Natural History Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts.From left, Ian Medeiros ’16, Amber Wolf ’17, Zoe Greenberg ’16, Nina Duggin ’18, Caroline Brown ’17, and Audra McTague ’19 at the annual Northeast Natural History Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. Credit: John Anderson

The annual Northeast Natural History Conference draws together naturalists from academia and the conservation sciences for two days of discussion, debate and presentations on subjects ranging from vegetation structure to carnivore movements. Sponsored by the Eagle Hill Institute, the meeting gathers researchers, field biologists, natural resource managers, faculty members and their students, and other naturalists who share the vision of developing an expanded regional forum for sharing information on all aspects of the natural history sciences of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

This year’s conference, held at the Sheraton Springfield Hotel in Springfield, Mass., were attended by six College of the Atlantic students: Audra McTague ’19 and Nina Duggan ’18, who both presented poster papers about their work on Great Duck Island; Amber Wolf ’17, who presented both a poster and an oral paper on her studies of eelgrass in northern Frenchman Bay; Ian Medeiros ’16, who attended the meetings with Professor Nishi Rajakaruna, and presented senior project-related work on the effects of serpentine soils on vegetation in Massachusetts; and Caroline Brown ’17 and Zoe Greenberg ’16, who attended sessions.  The presentations by McTague, Duggan, and Wolf were supported by the COA W.H. Drury Research Fund.

Immersive experienceFrom left: Audra McTague ’19, Nina Duggin ’18, and Amber Wolf ’17 at the Northeast National History Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts.From left: Audra McTague ’19, Nina Duggin ’18, and Amber Wolf ’17 at the Northeast National History Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. Credit: John Anderson

COA W.H. Drury Professor of Ecology and Natural History John Anderson accompanied the group and chaired a section on Mammalogy.  He said the experience was very positive for all involved. The multi-day immersion into natural sciences, and the camaraderie with students, scientists and others equally captivated by the research on display was energizing, he said.  

“Probably the high point of the meeting for me occurred Saturday evening at dinner where I sat back at the tapas bar and watched five COA natural historians “geek out”  over the papers they had heard, the people they had talked to, the new techniques they had been exposed to, and the sheer wonder and delight of being professionals with their peers,” Anderson said. “For all practical purposes I was invisible, the conversation running on without any need of a teacher. It struck me that this was expeditionary learning at its finest.”

A room of one’s peers

Nina Duggan, who was excited to present at a large conference for the first time, said it was inspiring to be around so many naturalists at once.

“The entire building was filled with people who were all excited enough about the natural world to make a career out of learning about it, and that excitement was both palpable and contagious,” Duggan said.

Stepping in front of a crowd of professional scientists to present her research was nerve wracking, she said, even though she was quite familiar with her material - work from a field season on COA’s Great Duck Island. Her nervousness proved unfounded, though, she said, as the crowd was incredibly welcoming and friendly.

Eelgrass research by Amber Wolf ’17.Eelgrass research by Amber Wolf ’17.

Capturing attention

Amber Wolf presented her work poster and also gave a talk, and said she found receptive, complimentary audiences for both. She also enjoyed listening to presentations that touched on a number of natural history specializations, she said.

“It was great to be able to jump from plant ecology to the genetic analysis of coyotes within 40 minutes time. I really valued the opportunity to listen to others present their work in areas where I had less familiarity,” Wolf said.

She was a little startled the day of her presentation, though, when a stern-looking man approached her, seemingly perturbed about something.
“Later in the day when we were gearing up to leave, a man I didn’t know came marching towards me and, in a booming voice, he pointed his finger at me and said, ‘You!’

“I stood there wide eyed and startled, waiting to hear why I was in trouble or what was going on. As he came closer, he said, ‘Your talk was wonderful!’ in an upbeat and less terrifying voice.

“I thanked him and we talked for a few minutes and as we parted he laughed, and said, ‘I didn’t mean to scare you!’” Wolf said.

A fantastic experience

Nina Duggan ’18 presents her research on Common Eider predation at the Northeast Natural History Conference.Nina Duggan ’18 presents her research on Common Eider predation at the Northeast Natural History Conference. Credit: John Anderson

Caroline Brown, who accompanied the presenters, said that is was fascinating to hear talks on topics from resource management to ecological issues surrounding a variety of species in the Northeast, and to be able to ask questions of the many poster presenters.

“It was a great experience,” she said, “as many of the sessions dealt with topics that I was learning about in several classes, such as Conservation Biology and Wildlife Ecology, and it was interesting to see other students and professors’ interpretations of issues.”
The inspiration felt by the students carried into the evenings, and followed them back home to COA.

“Whenever we were not present at presentations those of us attending from COA would get together and discuss the topics previously brought up in said presentations, not out of an assignment or responsibility, but out of pure excitement and enthusiasm,” Duggan said. “This was an experience that made me truly feel that I could see myself doing this beyond college.”

Wolf said it was great to be able to talk with each other about the points the presenters made, questions they had about the research, and the best ways to communicate science.
“Overall, this was a fantastic experience,” Duggan said, “and I’m more than thrilled that I not only got to attend, but that I was able to participate and share my knowledge and research on eelgrass in the upper Frenchman Bay.”