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University Of Wyoming Grad Sheds Light On Badger Burrows

A badger emerging from a hole, caught on a motion-sensor game camera
Megan Anderson
A badger caught on a motion-sensor game camera set up by Anderson

A recent University of Wyoming undergraduate is already making a name for herself. Megan Anderson published an article in the peer-reviewed journal Ecology and Evolution. It shed light on the value of badger burrows, among other findings. Wyoming Public Radio's Cooper McKim talks with Anderson about the project.

Megan Anderson: What we did was we built relationships with private landowners. And we set up game cameras on their private working lands, and tried to figure out how all kinds of wildlife were utilizing private land versus public.

Wyoming has a ton of public lands, they are well studied, and people know a lot about them, but they don't really understand how wildlife are using private land. So that was kind of the basis of the study and that pilot summer, we were just kind of looking for anything and everything.

Megan Anderson, a recent University of Wyoming undergraduate
Megan Anderson
Megan Anderson, a recent University of Wyoming undergraduate

And a part of that also, we kind of wanted to do something focused on badgers, because there was a couple ranches around Pinedale and Meeteetse. That were like, "oh, yeah, like we have a badger problem." Like, there's plenty of them out there. If you want to do like an initial study. We were like, "yeah, like, that'd be cool, because no other like research has been performed on the American badger and like, the role of habitat provisioning."

And so we set up these cameras at abandoned badger burrows, which most badger burrows that you see are actually abandoned. So there's a ton of abandoned badger burrows out there, and we wanted to know if there were other species that actually utilize them. And we found quite a few. So that's extremely exciting.

Cooper McKim: So the goal is really filling in information on wildlife behavior on private land plus taking a look at badgers?

Anderson: Yeah. Yeah, it was kind of a two-in-one.

McKim: So what could that information help? Is that is the eye towards helping conservation organizations or wildlife managers?

Anderson: You could spin it a whole bunch of different ways it's kind of like a foundational work for why we actually need badgers, you know, because for a lot of landowners and the public in general, badgers are seen as pests. And they're usually exterminated when found, but in this case, we see that badgers provide habitat for a multitude of other species. And that's something that's never actually been studied before, just maybe observed in the field. In other types of field work.

McKim: Was there anything surprising that you that you came away with?

Anderson: At the very beginning of the project, you know, I was working with Joe Holbrook, who has done some extensive work on badgers previously, and he was hoping that if we got like, maybe seven or eight different species, we could actually like, this could be a potential paper! This is this summer when we were putting out all the cameras, and we ended up getting 31 different species, which completely blew us all away. And actually, 18 of those were birds, which we were not expecting, we kind of figured we'd catch more mammals just because, you know, they would make sense to actually utilize the abandoned burrows. But we captured a lot of birds actually using like the excavation mounds outside the boroughs for dust bathing, for foraging, for other reasons we can't quite put our finger on. For whatever reason, the majority were birds. So that was really surprising.

McKim: So maybe you already wanted to do this work. But was this an eye-opening experience as far as what you want to do for your career?

Anderson: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think when I applied for this position, I was actually majoring in wildlife and fisheries biology. And so, that's why it really like fit into my area of interest. But at the same time, I was kind of looking at other sciences, and trying to figure out what I actually wanted to do. And they got all sorts of hot conservation topics going and so I think that's really cool. And I was super excited to be a part of this project. But I think my one big takeaway is that I actually love research. And so this project has really inspired me to actually pursue a career in academia like, I want to go to grad school, I want to do all that kind of stuff and get all the degrees and maybe become a professor someday so that I can perform research and give graduates and undergraduate students the same opportunities that I was given.

McKim: That was recently graduated Megan Anderson talking about her recently published paper. Thanks for joining me.

Anderson: Thank you, Cooper.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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