Toni Lyn Morelli, Research Ecologist
Biography of scientist featured in Circular 1443 about STEM and related careers in USGS, to be used for recruitment into STEM careers.
Image Dimensions: 1280 x 720
Location Taken: Amherst, MA, US
Video Editor: Mark V. Bonito USGS, SPN, Pembroke Publishing Service Center
- Hi, I'm Toni Lyn Morelli. I'm a research ecologist with the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center. That means I get to study the impacts of climate change on animals and plants in ecosystems in the Northeastern U.S. and beyond. I didn't always know I wanted to be a scientist. Didn't always know what that meant. I grew up in the suburbs and I spent my free time in the backyard looking for rabbits and birds and bugs to investigate and chase. And from that my fascination with animal behavior and ecology was born. I worked really hard in school and took lots of science classes. Some of them I found a little bit boring, but they helped me hone in on what I was most interested in. When I went to college, I remember arriving on campus and not really knowing what I wanted to do except that I had a particular interest in science. I found out that I could get a degree in understanding animals and how they interact with the world. After four years in college, I went on to graduate school, where I got to live in the rainforest while I studied lemurs in Madagascar. Now as a USGS employee, I get to increase the world's understanding of the impacts of climate change on the natural world. I work with great people and get to do a lot of traveling and also get to visit some of the most interesting and remote parts of the country. For example, I just returned from doing surveys in Denali National Park in Alaska. My primary field site is the Presidential Mountains in New Hampshire, some of the tallest mountains in the Eastern U.S. My field assistants and I put traps out for red squirrels there. We're trying to understand how climate change is impacting red squirrels' distribution. This is particularly important because red squirrels are the primary nest predator of birds that are only able to nest in those mountains. Once we've caught the red squirrels, we put ear tags on them to identify individuals, take a DNA sample, and figure out their sex and weight. Once we release them, we get to track them using radiotelemetry where it can figure out exactly where they move around in the landscape and how they change from year to year. Sometimes we catch other animals by accident like the pretty ferocious weasel-like American marten. In addition to being a scientist, I'm a wife and a mom of a terrific five-year-old kid. I also have an excellent community of friends and family around me that help support me and we support each other in this work. I love my job. Working for USGS is fantastic. I really like working for the U.S. government because I love the idea of being a public servant, of using my work to help the country. I love being a scientist. Anything that I'm curious about, I can look into, and it feels like a noble profession, using my time to increase human knowledge about the world for good. I love being a woman in science. Just working day to day, I can be a role model for young women and girls. I look forward to the day where being a female mid-career senior scientist is not extraordinary. I love working in the Northeastern U.S. where I get to study the impacts of climate change on moose and lynx in the Appalachian mountains and then trout in cold water streams and on the coast where sea levels are rising. The scientists that I know love their jobs because they're in it to make a positive impact. We get satisfaction out of it because, though you have to work really hard, you get to put the time in doing good for the world. The secret is, it does get easier. We need more scientists like you in the world, so go for it.