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Howard University Fish and Wildlife Adaptation Intern Lowri-Ann Millings shares highlights from their time researching species range shifts at the National CASC.

This article was written by Lowri-Ann Millings, 2023 Howard University Fish and Wildlife Adaptation Intern.


Historically, I’ve been a social scientist. I’ve always loved science, but I’ve focused on the human aspect of it. As I've developed my interests and progressed in my career, however, I realized the lack of confidence in my natural science skills was a blind spot. Through Howard University's Environmental Science program, I was given the chance to apply to the USGS Fish and Wildlife Adaptation Internship. While working within the National Climate Adaptation Science Center (NCASC), I had the opportunity to contribute to a long-running project collecting and analyzing data on the relationship between species range shifts and climate change using a systematic review.

Within CASC, there are nine CASC regions (Alaska, Midwest, North Central, Northeast, Northwest, Pacific Islands, South Central, Southeast, and Southwest) alongside the National CASC, each having a partnership with a local university. On the range shifts project, I was specifically tasked with creating fact sheets for each CASC region. They were intended to provide a digestible snapshot for regional managers and other scientists to understand how species are shifting their ranges in response to climate change and our current knowledge gaps. Each fact sheet provides key findings and graphs of its region’s data so that other scientists and the general public alike can obtain a brief understanding of the data before delving into the referenced paper and full database.

Two large concepts I learned were data analysis through coding and science communications through graphic design. The data used on the fact sheets needed to be analyzed and visualized, which I did using coding language R and the program RStudio. For example, to assess significance, I ran t-tests for particular sections of the database (e.g., testing the significance of the elevational trailing edge data in the Northeast).

Once the key findings were gathered, I organized them onto each fact sheet. This is when I found out science communications and graphic design were much more than making text look aesthetically pleasing on a PDF. I learned the importance of color palettes, contrast, font scale, spacing, word choice, and ensuring the finished product was visually and contextually accessible. Using both Canva and Procreate, I went through a lot of trial and error to eventually reach a result I was proud of.

This past October, I had the opportunity to attend the 9th Annual HBCU Climate Change Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, I attended various talks, panels, and trainings focused on environmental justice and communities disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. Some of my favorites were “Climate Grief: Healing the Earth Healing Ourselves” and the students panels on “Climate Change/Climate Justice, Adaptation and Mitigation” and “Water Quality and Flood Risks”. The conference also hosted a career fair with dozens of companies and organizations open to fresh ideas from students. Sharing ideas with like-minded peers and professionals was invaluable. I was around experts in the theory of environmental justice and had the privilege of speaking with community members directly affected by climate injustices. Notably, I met and chatted with Dr. Robert D. Bullard! He is often recognized as the “father of environmental justice” for his academic and social work highlighting environmental racism for the past five decades. I enjoyed how intimate and personable the conference was - everyone was ready to learn from one another and conversations flowed so freely. Outside of the conference, I also spent the weekend exploring the beautiful city of New Orleans with a fellow intern and Bison, Jordan Newsome.

Now wrapping up my undergraduate time with the National CASC and putting my finishing touches on my project, I can confidently say natural science and social science can’t successfully exist without the other. It's imperative that the natural science research we do not only considers the human effects and impacts but makes sure the distribution of the research is accessible to everyday people. Being able to strengthen my natural science skills will only benefit my journey as someone with a strong social science foundation. Moving forward, I hope to continue making informational graphics to share with a wider audience through social media, for example. I also will continue onto graduate school with a focus on studying environmental justice in the wake of climate change while implementing and emphasizing the consideration of natural science research in mitigating and combatting those injustices.

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