Krista is working on her MSc under the supervision of Drs. Scott Nielsen and Shelley Pruss. She is originally from Regina and has made the Masefield community pasture near Grasslands National Park her home for the past few years. While completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Regina, she studied how a recent smooth brome invasion along a creek changed soil moisture regimes and understory plant species composition along a prairie creek. She became interested in conservation biology while working as a field assistant at Grasslands National Park. This later led to employment as species-at-risk monitoring technician where she first began working with her future study species, the Greater short-horned lizard.
Krista’s research focuses on predicting occurrence of the Greater short-horned lizard in southwest Saskatchewan. Specifically, she is interested in defining a landscape-scale predictive model of Greater short-horned lizard habitat. She is also fascinated by thermal patch selection at the far northern extent of this shuttling ectotherm’s range. While her research goals may seem exciting, the field work required can be tedious. Greater short-horned lizards are very small, are shaped like rocks, and hold motionless until the very moment their lives are threatened by a hiking boot. This past summer, Krista and her field assistant searched nearly 1000 km of random walk transects in Grasslands National Park and found 118 Greater short-horned lizards. Considering that the search speed averages two km/h, they found roughly one lizard for every four person hours searched! Once a lizard was located, the thermal characteristics of the location were capture with a thermal imaging camera. The images will be used to identify the unique thermal characteristics at selected locations that make it possible for Greater short-horned lizards to live in a northern climate.
In addition to searching Grasslands National Park for Greater short-horned lizards, Krista searched approximately 300 km in the Val Marie community pasture without finding a single lizard. In fact, all she found were cows, golden eagles, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, rattlesnakes, and cowboys.
With all the field work out of the way, Krista is settling into analyzing data and writing the first chapter of her thesis. When she’s not analyzing and writing in Edmonton, she likes to spend time back home with family, friends, and her horse Buck.
This article appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of the Landmark Newsletter.
Added: 18 October 2010