Coastal Environmental Student Hopes to Cultivate a New Generation of Scientists

By Sydney Gorak

Most stereotypes about scientists are of white males in lab coats conducting experiments. It partly stems from a gender bias that exists in the scientific field, especially when it comes to scientific research. 

Kyra Liedtke, a coastal environmental student at Flagler College is passionate about changing these ideals and helping cultivate the next generation of scientists. 

“I want children of all backgrounds, ethnicities and disabilities to be able to pick out a scientist in a textbook and see themselves,” Liedtke said. 

Liedtke hopes to educate people to look at the natural world in a different light by becoming a professor and a researcher at a university. Liedtke emphasized the importance of understanding that Earth is our home and it is where we experience family vacations and make memories; enjoying the beauty and emotional aspects of life along the way. The science behind acknowledging Earth and its importance is not just data and statistics, but rather how we are all a part of the universe. 

“I just want science to become more inclusive about the people. I think a lot of the time in the scientific field we forget people exist and need to study demographics just as much as we need to study a threatened species,” Liedtke said.  

Combining researchers from chemistry, anthropology and microbiology into a “science sphere” where they can contribute their expertise in their particular area of science is a key role in figuring out how the world works. Without taking into consideration all of the various scientists research, these dynamic problems of science will not be solved.  

Liedtke, along with two female scientists, were recently published in ScienceDirect for their scientific observations of changes in coastal Gopher Tortoise burrow characteristics and density in Northeast Florida. 

In this recent research publication, three female scientists were responsible for gathering and comparing research for Gopher Tortoise Keystone species in the NorthEast area. Liedtke was responsible for data analysis which included looking at all of the previous data that Professor Barbara Blonder and students collected in the past.

The team gathered data from 2016 and 2018 and compared results. Key information gathered was how many burrows existed in one area and then comparing the statistical relevance of burrows from one another such as if a burrow is active, abandoned, or destroyed. After Hurricane Matthew ruined the dunes, it was hypothesized that the tortoise populations wouldn’t return. However, the tortoise population returned to their homes and continued to reproduce.

“These organisms are doing something right, we don’t know how they are adapting to these circumstances of environmental disturbance but they are,” Liedtke said. “This tortoise population is resilient to hurricanes and able to return back because of adaptation.”   

As climate change continues to occur, our natural world and the millions of species within these ecosystems are reacting to it. Understanding how these species and the natural world continue to persist is a key solution to how humans can better protect Earth in the future. 

Gopher tortoises are currently threatened and their burrows and presence is very important for the ecosystem providing habitats for hundreds of species. 

“Every aspect of an ecosystem holds an important part for a variety of habitats and ecosystems. Cities will continue to grow, forests will continue to be destroyed,” Liedtke said. “But, with that in mind, how can we better implement areas and urbanized spaces to coexist with these animals as a whole?”

Coastal species have already been affected even before climate change. Now, it is our responsibility to plan how to help these species adapt to the changes we’ve introduced into their environments.  

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