Gray fox research puts undergrad on path of self-discovery

 

Research is about discovery, and sometimes SIU students discover themselves in the process of doing it.

Angelica Bahena, for instance, discovered she was capable of more than she ever dreamed when she began researching the impact humans in Southern Illinois had on gray foxes.

“It’s the first time I ever did a research project that took this long or was this intensive,” said Bahena, a senior earning her degree in zoology from Chicago’s north side. “When I look at what I’ve done and what I’ve found, it amazes me.”

Working with SIU’s extensive zoology collection, Bahena looked at the cranial morphology of gray foxes from Southern Illinois to see if trapping had an effect on the local population. She carefully measured 175 skulls from Union County gray foxes from 1954 to 1968, which made up a fraction of the approximately 750 gray foxes trapped in the region during that time.

Under the direction of SIU’s Justin Boyles, an assistant professor with the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, Bahena found female foxes grew bigger skulls over time. That seemed to correlate with the high amount of trapping during that time period, despite the trapping simulating random selection.

At SIU, undergraduates can get involved with real research right away. Bahena’s work is important in understanding the effects human actions have on wildlife, but it’s also important to her on a more profound and personal level.

“I did not think I could manage a research project of any kind until I got the chance to work in the collections,” she explained. “I got a taste of what to expect moving forward to graduate school and a career in science and after going through the amount of time, effort and patience I think that I am prepared to start graduate school and do more research on mammals.”