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Though few are aware of the various career opportunities associated with behavioral ecology, Stephanie Lamb plans to earn her master’s in the specialized field. 

Defined as the study of the evolutionary adaptation of animal behavior due to ecological pressures, behavioral ecology has broad applications.

“Behavioral ecology helps us better understand behavior, intelligence and learning processes of human and non-human animals,” said Leah Knapp, D.V.M., professor of biology at Olivet College. “For example, in terms of protecting endangered species, it helps us to understand how and why they behave as they do so we can take the necessary steps to protect them. It also helps us understand the development of various animal behaviors in response to environmental pressures and changes – both natural and human created.”

Lamb appreciates that the field won’t lock her down to any particular subset of species.

Case in point: This last summer she completed an internship with the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Gunnison, Colo., studying the parental care habits of burying beetles.

“With guidance from a mentor, I was able to design and complete my own experiments,” said Lamb, who is dual majoring in ecology/organismal biology and environmental science. “Five Ph.D. scientists provided feedback throughout the experience and were generous enough to give their insight into my project. They also introduced me to various types of small mammal and bird trapping methods, radio telemetry techniques, population censuses and experiment design. To put it simply, it was awesome!”

After getting her feet wet with small research projects at Olivet and the summer-long experiment in Colorado, Lamb will spend this fall assessing biodiversity along the Lansing River Walk as part of her Cutler Fellowship. She will use this opportunity to further enhance her research skills, become more familiar with data analysis, and learn more about habitat assessment and population survey methods.

“While all species are worth noting, I will focus primarily on the different birds present in several sections of the walk to ultimately assess habitat quality,” she said. “After collecting and analyzing data, I will determine if certain areas are more disturbed than others and make suggestions to the city of Lansing as they continue to expand this green belt oasis.”

It is Lamb’s goal that her research help the city maintain or increase biodiversity along the walk, while also providing the general public additional opportunities to view wildlife in its natural habitat.

Though Lamb is still researching the best graduate programs in the nation, she finds the University of Michigan and University of Colorado Boulder’s programs most attractive. Her master’s will focus on population ecology, reproductive behavior or habitat fragmentation.

“I have the long-term goal of becoming a wildlife biologist or conservation scientist,” said Lamb. “I want my life’s work to contribute to the conservation of rare habitats and endangered species.”
According to Lamb, her time at Olivet College has given her the confidence and knowledge needed to successfully work toward her career goals. “Students can get an education anywhere,” added Lamb. “But the constant personalized support from professors and staff truly sets Olivet apart. I plan to continue making the most of every opportunity, including this one.”

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