Alumna Takes Conservation Studies Across the Pond

From the Everglades to the Florida panther, it’s no secret that Florida is home to many endangered ecosystems and animals. Conservation is a huge topic of conversation as it impacts the lives of most Floridians and researchers daily. For one University of Central Florida alumna, Florida piqued her interest in zoology and wildlife conservation and she is ready to take her talents abroad.

Molly Grace graduated from the conservation biology Ph.D. program this past May. Her dissertation work at UCF focused on road ecology, the study of how wildlife and transport infrastructure interact. Specifically, she researched how human behavior can potentially be modified to reduce collisions with animals and also how traffic noise negatively influences wildlife. Grace’s next steps will take her overseas where she will conduct postdoctoral work at Oxford University in England. Grace will focus on a new research topic: how to define successful conservation. Many times success is defined as no longer at risk of extinction. Grace wants to change that.

“I will work with a team of scientists in the UK and US to create a new system for measuring the success of conservation efforts,” Grace said. “Right now, we tend to focus on extinction risk, so if a species has been brought back to a stable point, that’s as far as conservation usually goes. It’s hard to get funding after that point. But ecologists have long realized that this is not necessarily what our goal should be; it’s possible to have a species that is safe from extinction but is still a much smaller population than we might want to see, or is no longer found in all of the places that it was historically.”

During her work in England, Grace is most looking forward to working on a project that tackles a known problem in conservation and encourages conservationists to aim higher in their goals for endangered species which plants, animals and fungi.

“I want to use the great research that ecologists and conservation biologists have been producing to create a new standard,” Grace explained. “This is a great example of applying science to the real world.”

While Grace was studying at UCF she became very active on campus and served as president and faculty liaison for the Biology Graduate Student Association. She also worked with the Learning Environment and Academic Research Network and the Research and Mentoring Program, where she mentored undergraduate students in research. Grace describes this experience as one of the most rewarding experiences she has had in her academic career.

“Some of my best memories from UCF come from working with the students I’ve mentored,” Grace said. “Watching them grow from complete newbies to scientists presenting their own independent research has been such an awesome experience.”

Her line of work brings Grace outside often, and much of her time in Orlando was spent out in nature trails and local parks. Grace wants current students and alumni alike to make sure they appreciate the world that is around them.

“Go outside! Take time to appreciate nature,” she said.  “The natural areas around Orlando are full of beautiful and unique plants and animals.”

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