Allison Bryant joined the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) in January as a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) specialist.
“I am really excited for this new role because it combines all my favorite aspects of working in conservation,” said Allison. “I will get to interact and perform outreach with landowners and members of the community while still getting to work in the field and be involved with species monitoring and land management efforts. I am also looking forward to working with and learning from my new colleagues!”
Allison had a variety of experiences in outreach, land management, and wildlife research prior to joining the INHS team. “My conservation background is quite eclectic,” she says.
Allison holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Marian University in Indianapolis, specializing in ecology and environmental science.
“As an undergraduate student, I had many research projects in topics ranging from erosion prevention methods in new prairie plants to a population study of eastern box turtles, and wrote my senior thesis on measuring acute stress response in white-tailed ptarmigan,” Allison explains.
Allison also took the opportunity to pursue her passion for environmental education.
“Starting as an undergraduate, I worked as a naturalist for six years at my local nature center, caring for animals, interacting with visitors, and leading kid camps and other public events,” Allison said.
Allison comes to INHS with over four years of restoration experience in native Midwestern woodland, prairie, wetland, and fen habitats, including the use of chemical treatment on invasive species and prescribed burns. She has a strong background in species identification and has experience surveying endangered snakes, turtles, birds, and bats as well as using VHF radio telemetry and GIS to track movement in populations.
Specifically, she has worked for the Nature Conservancy in Indiana, restoring sensitive fen and wetland habitats and monitoring for endangered species like eastern massasaugas and copperbelly water snakes. After that, Allison moved out west to study lesser prairie chickens, using radio telemetry to track a population in and around the Cimarron National Grassland with Kansas State University and later performing aerial surveys for lesser prairie chicken leks in Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico via helicopter. Most recently Allsion worked for WEST Inc. in performing post-construction monitoring for bird and bat fatalities at a wind farm in central Illinois.
Allison recently answered some questions about career in science and conservation.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I don't remember a time when I was not interested in science! My earliest memories are of flipping over rocks to count ants, being taught the names of plants and birds by my mom, and fishing and mushroom hunting with my dad. This made the field of environmental science all the more personal for me because these ecosystems were first introduced to me in my own backyard.
What question do you get asked most frequently about your career or the subject you study?
A very common question I always hear is “why is this [insert plant/animal] important, what does it do?” I think it is interesting that many people feel there needs to be a specific reason for protecting a species rather than recognizing that an ecosystem is not defined by one species, but by multiple species and nonliving factors interacting together. Sometimes there are specific reasons for preserving a species and other times it is simply because that species is recognized to be one of the many players that make up a healthy ecosystem.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
A big challenge I have found is getting people to understand that they cannot distance themselves from the environment. Whether you are out in a rural community, the suburbs, or in the middle of an urban neighborhood you are part of a living ecosystem. How you live is a reflection of what is around you and vice versa.
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
I wish more people understood that science takes time and will not always go the way you expect.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
In order to be a good scientist, you have to be flexible and willing to look at things from different perspectives. Also, learn and gain new experiences as much as you can! Even if it is not directly related to your field of study, you never know where you may draw insight or inspiration.