Amphibian research guides Exeter resident to URI graduation
Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892
KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 13, 2005 -- Frogs and salamanders have played an unusually important role in Alison Milliman’s education at the University of Rhode Island. They’ve been the subject of her research, they’ve earned her grants, and she speaks enthusiastically about them when she notices one during a hike near her Exeter home. And they might play a role in her future as well.
Milliman, who will graduate May 22, took a rather circuitous route to earning a bachelor’s degree. That route included stops at colleges in New York and Pennsylvania as well as brief stints working half a dozen jobs from office assistant to restaurant manager. But when she arrived at URI, she settled in and excelled in the classroom and in field research.
Last summer Milliman spent most days using telemetry equipment to track the movement of spotted salamanders living adjacent to a golf course in Connecticut as part of a research project to assess the effects of habitat fragmentation on the amphibians.
“I learned a lot about amphibians on that project,” said the Exeter resident. “My identifications got better, and I got great experience handling a variety of animals.”
During her research she observed that golf course fairways were not significant barriers to the movement of the salamanders as was predicted, at least not during rainy days. The fairways did, however, force the salamanders to move farther from their breeding pools than salamanders living in more forested habitat.
As Milliman neared graduation, she continued her amphibian research, thanks to an undergraduate research grant she was awarded by the URI Office of the Provost. Several times this spring she visited ponds scattered around southern Rhode Island to count the number of “egg masses” laid by wood frogs and spotted salamanders. This ongoing project is used to assess the status of each species to help determine if local development is impacting amphibian populations.
It’s not just during her research that Milliman marvels at wildlife. “I live near Arcadia Management Area, so I can walk out my front door and be on a hiking trail in just a couple of minutes,” said the wildlife conservation biology major. “Yesterday I saw 14 painted turtles, a vernal pool full of breeding wood frogs, an osprey and a yellow-bellied sapsucker.”
Following graduation, Milliman plans to return to URI for graduate school to earn a master’s degree and study stream hydrology. “Ultimately I’d like to work in a government or non-profit job doing freshwater habitat restoration and habitat management,” she said.
That means that frogs and salamanders will probably continue to play a major role in her life for the foreseeable future.