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Biology Graduate Student Wins Katherine S. McCarter Policy Award

By: Cienna Madrid   Published 10:53 am / April 11, 2018

Boise State’s second annual Research Month is April 2018. Research Month celebrates the diverse and fascinating array of research happening each day on campus. Read feature stories on Boise State’s research endeavors, and access a full list of Research Month events, online at: research.boisestate.edu

Chelsea MerrimanBoise State University graduate student Chelsea Merriman recently was honored with the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award. Merriman, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences, is one of only 10 students nationally selected for the award, which provides graduate students with the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. this month for policy experience and training to communicate science to the public and to policy makers.

“​This is a highly competitive award given by the premier ecological society in the U.S.,” explained her advisor, associate professor of biology Jen Forbey​. “This award recognizes the long-term commitment Chelsea has made not only to contribute to managing wildlife and public and private lands in the western U.S. but also to make sure that her research is shared with the public.”

Merriman’s research focuses on the larger impacts of landscape and chemical diversity on the reproduction of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), as well as the impacts on sagebrush in the steppe.

“My research looks specifically at how sage-grouse utilize the landscape around them during the breeding season,” Merriman said. “By analyzing habitat characteristics, including general structure and chemical diversity, at areas where grouse perform specific tasks – i.e. reproducing, foraging, sleeping – we can gain a better understanding of ways to promote sagebrush steppe for multiple species and various activities.”

As Merriman explained, the sagebrush steppe is one of the most rapidly shrinking ecosystems in the U.S. but is nevertheless vital to ranchers, the energy industry, recreationists and wildlife. If scientists can better understand how to manage for the structural and dietary quality that promotes diverse activities, they may be able to more efficiently focus restoration and management efforts.

“​In terms of management, our federal agencies put millions of dollars into restoring sagebrush landscapes after fires in sage-grouse habitat,” Forbey added. “Chelsea is helping them work smarter by identifying the most palatable plants for reseeding to help sage-grouse stay healthy and breed successfully.​ Keeping sage-grouse fat and happy because they have good food in winter and spring may help keep them off the endangered species list, which is good for sage-grouse, ranchers, the public, energy development and the economy of Idaho and westerns states.”

“I loved this particular study due to its transdisciplinary nature – we are studying a system through the lenses of behavior, chemical ecology, physiology, landscape ecology, and even remote sensing and political ecology,” Merriman said. “Even though I utilize a portion of these tools, they all come together to synthesize a more holistic story that can better help sage-grouse and sagebrush steppe management.”

Merriman added: “Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the country, which provides a really neat opportunity for studying and assessing how land use will change in the coming decades. Funding for science at our universities not only promotes science and technology across our academic institutions, it also means gaining a better understanding of how our lands and our wildlife will respond to changes. This in turn enables us to better manage for ecosystem services and coexistence with wildlife. As a scientist, student, and Idahoan, I think it’s just as important to communicate and promote science as it is to do science.”

A Boise native, Merriman received her Bachelor of Science in environmental science and anthropology from the University of Notre Dame in 2014.