Auriel Fournier, a waterfowl ecologist and director of the Forbes Biological Station, has been awarded a 2022 PRI Early Career Researcher Award. At Forbes, Fournier oversees research projects, staff and students, and the facility itself—everything from well pumps to boat motors. She has diversified funding for the Forbes station by attracting grants from new sources, making the field station more resilient. This has also enabled her to hire a new full-time staffer and several graduate students. Fournier also leads the major National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded Firebird project focused on waterbirds in the Gulf of Mexico, which involves collaborators from multiple agencies and organizations.
"It's very affirming that the work I'm leading and a part of here in Havana, and across the state and flyway, is valued by my colleagues and peers," said Fournier. "It's easy, especially over the past two years, to focus on the roadblocks we've encountered and the challenges we've faced, but I'm really proud of the work my team and I have done and the new projects we've started. This award has my name on it, but it's a tremendous team effort on each project to get the work done, sometimes with plan D or F or Z, but getting it done regardless."
In addition to her roles as researcher and field station director, Fournier has also established an impressive leadership stature at national and international levels. As Chair of the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network Coordination Committee, she is a major contributor on two important reports that line out state-of-the-art approaches to monitoring and managing bird populations in the northern Gulf of Mexico. This year, the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network was recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a Regional Director's Honor Award.
In recommending Fournier, Eric Schauber, director of the Illinois Natural History Survey and Illinois State Biologist, wrote, "Besides the standard measures of research productivity, she has truly distinguished herself through her stature as a leader and mentor, through her effective science communication and engagement, and through her dedicated efforts to removing barriers and making the field of wildlife biology more diverse, equitable, and inclusive."
Since joining INHS in 2019, Fournier has added 13 peer-reviewed publications to her credit. Further, she was a co-editor and authored four chapters for the book, Strategic Bird Monitoring Guidelines for the Northern Gulf of Mexico, which has directly led to several critically important bird monitoring projects being funded and conducted along the northern Gulf of Mexico coasts.
"My hope is that the work I do will be a building block toward more informed decision-making about wetland birds as a whole suite of species, not just focusing on specific ones," said Fournier, "Especially here in Illinois, but broadly across the region and continent, wetlands are important habitats for a variety of wildlife, and we still lack a lot of answers. For instance, we know for some groups of birds how to restore and manage good wetlands for them, but we often don't know what the impacts of those restoration and management actions are on the rest of the bird community. Wetland birds face a wide suite of challenges in the decades ahead, and one of them is people who don't care, or don't think that a career in wildlife ecology is possible for them."
Mark Woodrey, assistant research professor at Mississippi State University and Fournier's former post-doctoral advisor, commended Fournier not just for her academic achievement, but for her passionate advocacy to engage under-served and under-represented groups in the scientific community.
"Auriel has served on diversity and inclusion committees in professional scientific societies, conducted and published research challenging the traditional paradigm that volunteering and internships are a gateway to scientific careers. Her publications on the impacts of unpaid jobs have led to several non-profit organizations changing their hiring practices, as well as the Wilson Ornithological Society changing their policies around research funding to allow for the payment of technicians, and her work is currently being used by The Wildlife Society's Early Career Working Group to develop a position statement on unpaid labor," said Woodrey.
Fournier earned a 2020 BioOne Ambassador Award in recognition of her skill at communicating the importance and impact of research to the public. She also is a passionate advocate for expanding access to wildlife biology as a profession. She authored a pivotal paper arguing against the longstanding practice of expecting entry-level workers in the field to labor without compensation. She has also served on Early Professional Committees for two major scientific societies and the DEI Committee for the 2020 North American Ornithological Conference.
"I’ve wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember and was very fortunate to have amazing parents that nurtured that in a wide variety of ways," said Fournier. "I'm hopeful that through the work I am leading at Forbes Biological Station we can continue a legacy of high-quality research that is equally focused on building people up, learning from everyone else on the team, and creating a place to do science that anyone interested in birds and wetlands could see themselves as a part of."