This online-exclusive content is part of Butler Magazine’s Fall 2021 issue. To learn more about the history, goals, and findings of the Indy Wildlife Watch research, check out our main story here. Then, keep reading below to see how Butler students have had the chance to get involved.
For the last five years, Butler University’s Indy Wildlife Watch project has been placing motion-triggered cameras across Indianapolis to gather photos and data about the city’s animal inhabitants. Since the start, researchers have invited Butler students to get involved. Whether completing for-credit internships or volunteering in their free time, nearly 20 students have assisted with fieldwork, data analysis, or animal identification since the research first began.
Taylor Coleman, a junior Biology major, has been helping tag photos since last fall. She has created infographics for each of Indy Wildlife Watch’s partner organizations—like the Indianapolis Zoo, Indy Parks, and Newfields—with site-specific info about the most common animals on their properties. Coleman has also enjoyed the opportunity to help establish the new Zooniverse website, and she hopes the platform resonates with folks outside of the science community.
“A lot of animals won’t show up if people are around, but there is quite a bit of wildlife traffic coming through when people aren’t out there,” Coleman says. “I think that’s interesting because if you go on a hike hoping to see animals, the wildlife will avoid humans, so people don’t think the animals are there. But they are.”
While some researchers study the fauna, others focus on the flora. Senior Corey Dea joined the project as an intern in summer 2020 to help examine the city’s vegetation. During site visits, small teams marked out circular plots to sample the plants surrounding each of the camera traps—measuring tree sizes, canopy density, and the coverage of understory shrubs.
“The idea is that if we can see what types of vegetation structures are there, we can see if different structures are a predictor for different types of wildlife,” explains Dea, who is double-majoring in Environmental Studies and Biology. “Once you know that, you can plan cities based on that data.”
While this plant-based fieldwork has been going on for years, Dea was part of the team that wrapped up the data collection. Now, he is helping analyze those records. Some of this work took place as part of a summer 2021 Hendricks Fellowship—a program supporting Butler students pursuing conservation or ecology research—and Dea is continuing to collaborate with CUES Director Julia Angstmann to write a paper examining how vegetation structures vary between different sites across Indy.
“I’m getting an all-around experience of what being an ecologist is like,” Dea says. “From fieldwork to statistical analysis, I am learning things I have never done before.”
Students interns for the Indy Wildlife Watch project have worked on everything from photo tagging, to vegetation analysis, to community outreach.
“Students are integral to the success of the project because they provide logistical support for the collection and analysis of data and, more importantly, bring unique perspectives and questions that drive the project and its future directions,” Angstmann says. “For example, because of student initiative, we have quantified wildlife presence on Butler’s campus through a Butler Wildlife Watch project and engaged entire high schools in presentations about urban wildlife. We have two new student interns with us this semester, and I am excited to see where their unique perspectives take the research.”