College of Science

Department of Applied Environmental Science

Associate Professor Engages Students in Terrestrial Wildlife Ecology Research


Headshot of Dr. Jennifer Duggan, wearing a CSUMB hat

Dr. Jennifer Duggan, Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Environmental Science, has been actively engaging students in research through her Terrestrial Wildlife Ecology lab. In addition to lab experiences, Jenny also dedicates her Sunday afternoons towards informally advising students on Step & Prep walks throughout Fort Ord. To learn more about the many ways Jenny incorporates students in her work, check out the interview below. 

Dr. Jenny Duggan's students pose outdoors

Students (and dogs) take a moment to enjoy the view during Step & Prep

What does your research entail? 

I lead the Terrestrial Wildlife Ecology (TWE) Lab at CSUMB, and in this lab, we focus our research on how wildlife responds to changes in land use and cover.  Changes can include not only those that we typically think of as having a negative impact on wildlife, such as the habitat loss and fragmentation that accompany urban development, but also positive changes, such as restoration of native vegetation.  Although my expertise is in mammalian ecology, some of the students that have joined my lab have brought their own expertise in birds or herpetofauna, so we've tackled research projects examining a diverse range of wildlife in the Monterey Bay area.
What is your favorite part of being a faculty member at CSUMB? 
My favorite part of being a faculty member at CSUMB is working with the students at this university.  Students here are hardworking and driven- they generally don't take their educational and research opportunities for granted.  I find a lot of fulfillment in helping such people to meet their academic and career goals.
What is your favorite way to engage students in research / career exploration? 
I know that students are often busy with family and jobs outside of classes, so I like to integrate lots of research experiences and career exploration into classes- that seems like the best way to reach everyone.  I also try to make it clear to my students that they can ask me questions about research or careers at any time.  I was a first-generation college student who knew very little about achieving success in or after college, and I love helping students navigate their way through everything that I didn't know.  Because I enjoy academic/career advising so much, I actually started a program called Step & Prep, which is basically a time each week for students to ask me questions while walking at Fort Ord National Monument with me and my dog.  Of course, if people want to join me to simply walk and observe wildlife, that's fine too!
A squirrel resting in a humane small mammal trap

While the TWE Lab uses observations to collect information on behaviors, such as fear responses, they also use live trapping to collect more detailed information about individual squirrels.

If you could give students advice about engaging with faculty, what would your advice be? 
I always encourage students to reach out to faculty with questions about classes, research, or careers.  I know it can be difficult for students who are shy, but keep in mind that faculty at CSUMB are generally kind people who have plenty of information and opportunities they want to share with students.
Any exciting new endeavors you'd like to share with us? 
Recently, I've been working with a couple of graduate students in my lab to address the question of whether wildlife perceives humans differently when we are wearing face masks.  After reading a 2020 publication that reported sparrows in China reduced their fear responses to humans wearing face masks, I decided to test the fear responses of squirrels.  Data on the fear responses of squirrels were collected by students across the country participating in Course-based Undergraduate Experiences (CUREs) through Squirrel-Net.  So far, we are not finding any indication that wearing masks affected how squirrels responded to humans.  Instead, their responses seem to vary with things we would expect, like the distance between a squirrel and safety (e.g., a tree or burrow).   
What are your goals for the near future (research, courses, engagements, etc.)?
My graduate students and I will present the final results of analyses examining the fear responses of squirrels at the annual meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists this summer in Tucson, AZ.  Our goal will be to submit the study for publication shortly after.  If we are lucky, the pandemic will be over by then, and mask wearing will again be a novelty!

Thank you, Dr. Jenny Duggan, for your dedication to science students at CSUMB!