UNT Ecology Undergrad Research Wins First Place at Texas SER Conference | College of Science
November 26, 2019

UNT Ecology Undergrad Research Wins First Place at Texas SER Conference

Congratulations to UNT Biological Sciences' undergraduate Tessa Boucher for the presentation of her research at the 24th annual Texas Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) conference, where she won first place! Tessa is working on her degree in Ecology at the University of North Texas with a focus on wildlife, and she is currently finishing up a research paper on a research project with Dr. James Bednarz. This project, focusing on the nesting habits of the elusive Painted Bunting, was featured earlier this year as part of the impactful research UNT is conducting at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area.

"I am certainly very excited about and proud of Tessa's outstanding implementation of her research in very tough field conditions, as well as the presentation of her results at the TSER conference," said her professor, Dr. Bednarz. "Tessa was incredibly tough in the field. She showed an outstanding ability to observe the behaviors of her study bird (the Painted Bunting), and persevere while 'crawling' through the thorny vegetation in search of nests, despite the blazing summer heat."

Tessa chose wildlife biology because she always loved the way different aspects of nature fit together. "I've always enjoyed thinking about how the whole ecosystem worked and how delicate it is," she said. "I grew up in a very small country town and had many unconventional pets as a child. When I found out that I could have a career as a field research biologist I was determined to make that happen. The only problem is that I love all aspects of environmental biology and find it hard to narrow down just one thing I want to focus on!" She began volunteering at the LLELA migratory bird banding station right after she started taking classes at UNT, and jumped at the chance to work on the research study with Dr. Bednarz as soon as she heard about the opportunity.

Tessa has been the recipient of many scholarships since her transfer to UNT from Tarrant County College last year, including the Science Undergraduate Research Presentation Award (SUPRPAS) from the College of Science, which allowed her to attend and present her poster at this year's Texas SER conference. Another scholarship award has made it possible for Tessa to attend a study abroad course this upcoming spring with UNT Biological Sciences professor Dr. Kennedy to study aquatic insects in Costa Rica.

Tessa's undergraduate poster presentation at the Texas SER conference won first place of twenty-one presenters. "My part of the project focused on habitat assessments of the nest sites of these birds," said Tessa. "I measured vegetation and other parameters and compared them to random paired sites. The information I gathered will be used to help management at LLELA to make decisions on future restoration efforts so these birds will continue to use LLELA as their breeding habitat."

"Although finding Painted Bunting nests was a team effort, Tessa's effectiveness in the field contributed substantially to the team's achievement of locating a total of nineteen active Painted Bunting nests, a sample key to Tessa's award-winning research," said Dr. Bednarz.

This project focused on bird species but the students also needed to be knowledgeable about regional trees, grasses, and forbs. "I used things I have learned from many different classes that I have taken at UNT so far," said Tessa. "The ecology curriculum really did prepare me to do intensive field research. I am not sure I will always work with birds but I do know that this project made me feel like a real scientist."

Tessa has been working toward a UNT volunteerism graduation cord via the LLELA track option, an option available to all students at UNT, though she took a semester break from volunteering to participate in the Painted Bunting study. The project was funded by a SEED Grant from UNT's Advanced Environmental Research Institute, which meant the students were paid for their hard work on this research study. "I was actually an employee of UNT as a field research technician. That was pretty awesome!" said Tessa.

"I would advise new students to seek out volunteer opportunities to find out what they enjoy doing," said Tessa. "I don't particularly like to spend all of my time in the lab looking in a microscope but I do really enjoy spending time outside hiking all day, getting dirt under my fingernails. Find what you love and then do it. If you don't seek these opportunities, they won't happen to you. I emailed Dr. Bednarz before I had even started UNT asking him if he knew of any volunteer opportunities I could take advantage of. The moment he had something for me I jumped on it."

To learn more about how to get involved in UNT research as an undergrad, please contact College of Science advisor Sara Peacock at sara.peacock@unt.edu. For more information about the UNT Biological Science Department visit https://biology.unt.edu/.