Laura A. Taylor
Graduate Student | Department of Applied Ecology | North Carolina State University
2023 – 2024 Global Change Research Fellow
Statement of purpose:
Growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, I have witnessed the dramatic combined impacts of a warming climate and an urban heat island: school sports having to change practice times to avoid the hottest times of the day because kids were fainting from dehydration and sun exposure. Kids were playing outside at 8 or 9 pm because that was the only time cool enough to bear staying outdoors for long. My upbringing in an area where climate change and urbanization are making hot areas even hotter inspired me to study the impacts of these two forces on our natural environment in graduate school and how to justly incorporate the people living in these areas into conservation efforts.
My formal scientific study of urbanization began when I designed and executed an independent undergraduate senior research project on the impacts of artificial light at night on green anole lizards’ behavior and physiology. My undergraduate research focused on the intersection of urban ecology, behavioral ecology, and physiological ecology. In addition, my research provided valuable information for urban lizard conservation. After graduation, I worked for over three years as a research technician at Purdue University and University of Louisiana at Lafayette and as a lab manager at University of North Texas studying plant-pollinator interactions in agricultural habitats. Through my undergraduate research and work experiences, I have discovered my core research interests in the fields of urban ecology and conservation.
Description of research:
As an incoming Ph.D. student at NC State, I will be joining Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt’s lab to work on a project evaluating the effects of urbanization and climate change on the Crystal skipper butterfly (Atrytonopsis quinteri). The Crystal skipper is endemic to a 50 km stretch of North Carolina’s coastal barrier islands that have been rapidly urbanized in recent years. Combined with projected sea level rise due to climate change, this rapid urbanization puts the Crystal skipper at risk of extinction. In collaboration with partners at NC State (Department of Applied Ecology and Center for Geospatial Analytics), the USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and the NC Aquariums, I will examine how landscape-scale nectar availability affects the Crystal skipper’s habitat use within the urban matrix and investigate the Crystal skipper’s current and future population demography. Because little is known about the life cycle of the Crystal skipper, I plan to elucidate potential limiting factors that impact their survival and fecundity rates and ask whether habitat management can offset effects of climate change on this species. My collaborators and I hope to design and execute more effective conservation actions with the information about specific threats to the Crystal Skipper that I discover. In addition to this research, I will aid in the current monitoring of the Crystal skipper and regularly meet with conservation stakeholders. Lastly, I plan to work with my collaborators to develop public outreach and communication products on Crystal skipper conservation.
Elsa Youngsteadt (Department of Applied Ecology, NCSU)