Meet Monica Iglecia
Monica Iglecia, a second-year Master’s student in zoology, was awarded second-place honors in the Life Sciences category at the 2009 Graduate Student Research Symposium. Her winning poster presentation was entitled, “Occupancy modeling methods to utilize the North American Breeding Bird Survey, explore landscape pattern and process, and inform conservation planning.”
Although Iglecia grew up in southern California, she said she moved across the country, and specifically to North Carolina, for its variety of universities.
“NC State has a strong Biology Department [formerly Zoology] and a USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, linking researchers with government agencies,” Iglecia said.
As a senior in environmental studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, she began an internship with the Ventana Wilderness Society’s California condor program.
“The fieldwork with an endangered species interested me in conservation biology,” Iglecia said. “I wanted to focus my broad background in environmental studies toward the conservation of avian species.”
In the field of Conservation Biology, Iglecia said her interests focus on “how the development of natural habitats is affecting bird populations.”
According to Iglecia, many biologists attribute globally declining bird populations, at least in part, to the loss of suitable, continuous tracts of habitat for the various species.
“For a local example, between 1950 and 1990 the population in the Triangle increased by 200 percent and the area of developed land increased by 900 percent,” she said [NC Chapter of the American Planning Association, 2002].
Using scientific observations and data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Gap Analysis Program, Iglecia developed “computer models exploring birds’ relationships with the surrounding habitats.”
“The presence and absence of a species within a particular habitat provides insight into how species are associated with their surroundings,” she said. “This is different from a lot of bird research because it is at a much larger, landscape scale.”
Starting with the Brown-headed Nuthatch ( Sitta pusilla), “a common songbird that spends its entire life in the southeastern United States,” Iglecia studied variables that may influence the presence or absence of the species within a particular landscape, including “proportion of pine habitats, proportion of urban habitats or where along a north-south gradient the species is most likely to occur.”
From the models generated, Iglecia said a number of estimations can be made and the model design can be instituted with other avian species.
“We can estimate the probability a species will enter into a habitat that it had not previously occupied (local colonization), the probability the species will no longer exist in a particular location (local extinction) and the probability the species will be there at all (probability of occupancy),” she said. “Results from these models can be used to guide further species monitoring programs, identify areas of conservation concern, and identify thresholds of habitat necessary to maintain the species in questions.”
When not working on her Master’s work, Iglecia said she enjoys playing softball and long bike rides. Through a love for live music, food and art, Iglecia has also had the opportunity to take in some of the finer features of Southern culture.
“I have been enjoying a new found love of bluegrass and southern culture - like cheese grits and fried okra,” she said.
And, of course, Iglecia enjoys “anything related to wildlife.”
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