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“Shotgun scientists” studying how forests react to climate change

Angelica Patterson: “Shotgun Scientist” Studying How Forests Respond to Climate Change

This Q & A is part of a short series focusing on some of the female scientists at the Institute of Earth Sciences as part of International Women’s and Girls Science Day on February 11.Read more about this day’s related blog posts Here..

Angelica Patterson is a PhD candidate at Columbia University studying how plants respond to climate change.

The tough red oak tree now dominates the northeastern forests that surround New York City. But will they continue to do so in the future as climate change changes temperature and precipitation patterns?That’s one question Angelica Patterson I’m trying to answer. She is a PhD candidate at Columbia University’s Faculty of Global Environmental Sciences and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, studying how plants respond to climate change.

When the climate becomes unpleasant, trees may not be able to be picked up and left, but they move across generations. As the planet heats up, many species move north, chasing lower temperatures they are accustomed to.Important tree species Locally extinct, It can affect other plants and animals and dramatically change the overall composition of the forest. The red oak tree is one of those keystone species.

That’s why Patterson is in the middle of a greenhouse experiment investigating how northern red oak reacts flexibly to high temperatures. She will study red oak saplings in the New York region to see if the rate of photosynthesis and respiration of trees changes in hotter environments. If so, do those changes help them withstand the heat, or do they become more vulnerable to it? This work will help show if the Northern Red Oak saplings in New York will continue to take root and continue to thrive in warm climates, or if the species will disappear locally and have a significant impact on the rest of the forest. ..

In addition to being a scientist, Patterson is a science educator in the Hudson Valley’s BlackRock Forest and an advocate of diversity, fairness and inclusiveness. In 2016, she received the Campbell Award from the Columbia Alumni Association for her leadership role in two graduate groups. A Colombian science woman and a student of the Color Alliance.

In the Q & A below, Patterson tells us about her path to becoming a scientist and gives advice on how other women and girls do the same.

What is your favorite study?

My favorite thing about doing this kind of research is that every quest to answer a question reveals some evidence of what our forest will look like in the future. More questions arise from the previous question — it really never ends, but it’s science. To be a scientist, you need to explore, observe, ask questions about your observations, test them, then extract everything you’ve learned, explain what you’ve found about the system you’re studying, and be driven to connect. there is. It will be a bigger story about the environment. If I weren’t a scientist, I would probably have been a detective. Because the journey to discovery and the quest for truth is a puzzle game that I really enjoy.

How did you get the nickname “Shotgun Scientist”?

I have to credit the journalist Anna Turns who wrote Guardian article on my research In the fall of 2020. It has a nice ring on it and pays homage to the method I use to collect leaf samples from the high canopies of trees. After spending an impressive day shooting trees (and collecting shotgun holeless leaves), I proudly called myself “Angie Oakley,” but in many cases my sniper skills are at best. It was average. But if the “shotgun scientist” is catchy and can attract the audience to learn more about plant and climate change research, I’m all about it.

Patterson pointing a shotgun at the canopy

One of Patterson’s nicknames is “Shotgun Scientist.” This is because she uses a shotgun to collect the leaves from the top of the tree.

Did you know that you will study plants and climate change from an early age, or how did it evolve?

I never thought I would get this job years later. Growing up, I had many career aspirations to become a doctor, lawyer, astronomer, and veterinarian. In my first year as an undergraduate, I went to Cornell University, where I was enrolled in the Department of Animal Science. However, he soon realized that veterinary medicine was not for him, so he decided to take as many different courses as possible to explore what he wanted to study. Of the many courses I chose, an introduction to conservation biology changed the course of my life. It was there that I made this natural attraction to the question asked about how the natural world works and the chained impact that humans have on the environment and the processes within it.

After taking that course, I changed my major to natural resources and sought research opportunities in environmental science. My first research opportunity was in the ecology and evolutionary biology lab, which studied the effects of disease on Kansas grass. The second research opportunity took me to the Arizona desert. There, I was able to learn about the symbiosis of the Pachycereus and the Pachycereus. My first job as a research assistant was in the Plant Biology Laboratory at Bernard University, where I investigated epigenetics, how gene expression changes under a variety of environmental conditions. After that, I took a post-Baccalaureate class that discovered plant physiology and climate change.

Patterson with a shotgun and a bunch of pine needles

Patterson displays one of her “hunting” trophies. This is a cluster of pine needles that can be studied later in the lab.

You have also worked as an educator. Why is communication about science important to you?

I understand the impact of scientific literacy on the ability of people to feel knowledge and empower them to become managers of the environment. If you didn’t take one course in conservation biology, you might not be aware of the negative impacts on the environment and educate others about the negative impacts of climate change on our health and future. It may not have been affected because of it. Of our planet.

What challenges do girls and women, especially colored women, face when trying to study or work in science? How did those challenges keep you from stopping?

Unfortunately, the challenges affecting color women trying to work in science are complex and affect the professional aspirations and upward liquidity of color women who aspire to have a positive impact in their field. Give. The crossroads of being a woman and being identified as BIPOC begin at an early age when both expressions of identity are rarely considered mainstream. During my research, I have only seen a white Sith man as a symbol behind all the scientific discoveries that have been awarded Nobel Prizes and Honors. And when a woman was awarded, it was usually a white woman. BIPOC members’ contributions and ideas are usually overlooked or asserted by white counterparts who have the power to do things in a communal space, especially when it comes to professional upward liquidity in academia.

I have overcome some of these challenges by defending myself and allowing my ideas and efforts to be recognized. In short, you need to be leadership in the project or be publicly recognized. Face each other. Unfortunately, that means I have to work beyond my basic responsibilities, which can have a negative impact on my productivity, so it could be a double-edged sword. It needs to be a delicate balance, and we hope that fairness and inclusion efforts can reduce the work burden on women at BIPOC.

Editor’s Note: Last October, Patterson participated in a Sustain What panel discussion on the challenges women and people still face in science. Watch this video:

Do you have any advice for girls who might want to go into this area?

A girl who wants to be an environmental scientist is surrounded by as many people as possible to sponsor you: those who can help you reach your goals and someone who can connect you. recommend to. Find mentors and advisors who can help you get going, teach you how to navigate the professional world, and guide you to be the best. Support is essential to your success and it is important to build a group of friends who can inspire you along the journey. Don’t forget to give back. There are always people looking at you for inspiration. And finally, no one should discourage you from pursuing your dreams.

Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?

I always want to connect with people who are passionate about learning and teaching others about environmental science, so please contact me on Twitter to connect. @ColorfulSciGirl, Or visit My website..

“Shotgun scientists” studying how forests react to climate change “Shotgun scientists” studying how forests react to climate change

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