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Kathryn Pierfelice

School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences alumna

Kathryn Pierfelice, a native of Pataskala, Ohio, graduated in May with a master's degree in forestry from Auburn University. Having grown up on a family farm, Pierfelice was always interested in the natural world. After completing an undergraduate degree in plant ecology, she was working on an organic farm in Hawaii when a work project made her realize how much she enjoyed research. She took a childhood love for forest wetlands and found her passion in wetland ecology. With a travel grant from the Office of International Programs, Pierfelice recently visited the Institute of Amazonian Research to present her work, learn more about tropical wetlands and work collaboratively with other scientists.

1. What brought you to Auburn University?

I came to Auburn after being offered a Master's degree assistantship in forestry under Graeme Lockaby. Auburn University appealed to me because of its long success in forestry and the current research coming out of the department, especially the biogeochemical research headed by Dr. Lockaby. One of my favorite places on my family's farm was the swampy wetlands in the forests, and I was fascinated by their ecology. When I started to look for graduate programs, I wanted a program where I could explore that interest.

2. How did your trip to the Amazon come about?

During my time at Auburn, I became interested in international research, specifically tropical forestry. Dr. Lockaby supported my interest by finding a contact (Dr. Piedade) in Brazil who was willing to talk and possibly work with me. From there, we formulated a plan for me to visit Dr. Piedade at the Institute of Amazonian Research. The trip was partially funded by the help of Andrew Gillespie, the assistant provost for international programs.

3. What was the most important thing you learned from the Amazon?

The trip gave me a true sense of the vast diversity of wetlands in the Amazon as well as current and past research. Dr. Piedade and her colleagues at the Institute of Amazonian Research have such a wealth of information from their research on Amazonian wetlands; but after seeing the Amazon, you realize even decades of excellent research are just the tip of the iceberg.

4. How will you be able to apply things you learned on this trip to your research?

The trip has allowed me to see how another country approaches wetland research as well as gain exposure to an international research collaboration spanning across continents (Europe and South America). Additionally, the trip concreted my desire to pursue a Ph.D. involving tropical forestry.

5. What is next for you?

At present, I am in the process of formatting my thesis into manuscripts to submit to journals for publication. My next step is to explore Ph.D. opportunities that focus on tropical wetland forestry.

July 15, 2013