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Former ANHC Intern Hooked on Aquatic Ecology

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, February 27, 2020

Every year, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) offers unpaid internships to students from universities and colleges around the state. The internships are a win-win for the students, who gain experience outside the classroom, and ANHC staff, who benefit from the extra help and enjoy the opportunity to teach the students. We interviewed a former intern in the ANHC aquatics division, Katie Morris, and asked her about her intern experience. Morris currently works for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and has applied for a graduate assistantship at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Her story illustrates the influence internships can have on up-and-coming biologists, environmental scientists, conservationists, and teachers.

ANHC: What made you interested in applying for the ANHC aquatics internship?

Morris: I didn’t take a straight path into my Fisheries and Wildlife degree. After I graduated from ASU [Arkansas State University]-Beebe with an associate’s in environmental science, I still wasn’t sure about my plans until I learned about the degrees at Arkansas Tech University [ATU]. My Orientation to Fisheries and Wildlife Science class at Tech [ATU] was taught by Dr. Charles Gagen, who did a great job showing me the opportunities that were available. I first heard about the ANHC summer internship when Darrell Bowman, the ANHC director at the time, spoke to our class in the fall of 2017.

ANHC: How did the internship benefit you?

Morris: Although this was an unpaid internship, the field experience was invaluable to me, and I would definitely recommend the internship to anyone who has the opportunity to do it. Dr. Dustin Lynch was an amazing mentor to me. He is an expert on the fish found in Arkansas, such as the darters and Cyprinids [Minnow family], and he is also very knowledgeable about butterflies, birds, and crayfish. He was generous with his time and really cared that I learned as much as possible during my time in the field. This experience not only made me a better student as I completed my bachelor’s degree, but it also inspired me to pursue a master’s degree to study the endemic fish species of Arkansas.

ANHC: Out of all the fieldwork during your internship, is there a day or a place that stands out as particularly memorable?

Morris: During my internship, I was able to see natural areas that I might never have seen otherwise. It would be difficult to choose the area that I liked the most — there are too many favorites! I particularly enjoyed working with Dustin at Gap Creek Natural Area just outside Glenwood, Arkansas. Gap Creek is a beautiful, small stream that at first sight would not seem to be a place where an Arkansas treasure could be found, but it is the home of the Paleback Darter (Etheostoma pallididorsum), a tiny fish found only in four counties in Arkansas. I added it to my “Arkansas Darters Lifer List.” Thanks to Dustin and my current job at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, I have seen 39 out of the 46 species – so far! Another memorable field day was the trip to Rock Creek, a tributary of the Spring River, in northeast Arkansas. This is a perfect place to snorkel, and I was able to see my first Southern Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster) and Bleeding Shiner (Luxilus zonatus) in their natural habitat. Rock Creek is also home to several narrow range crayfish such as the Mammoth Spring Crayfish (Faxonius marchandi) and the Hubbs’ Crayfish (Cambarus hubbsi).

ANHC: What are your plans for the future?

I enjoy traveling and seeing new places, but my roots run deep in Arkansas and it will always be my home. As a teenager, I researched my family history and discovered that I am a sixth generation Arkansan. This may help explain why I love Arkansas so much — both the people and the natural wonders it has to offer. Even as a child, visiting Arkansas State Parks with my family, I felt at home in nature. I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to explore nature, and to sometimes simply sit quietly and observe all the life around me. I enjoy sharing and passing on what I’ve learned to others. I am currently interested in research and field work, and I plan to teach someday. One of my favorite field experiences happened recently at the dedication of the Hall’s Creek Canyon Natural Area. Two young children were fascinated by the darters and crayfish that we had caught, and I could see on their faces that they were really interested in the tiny details that we pointed out to them. It felt good to know that they were being inspired to learn about the importance of protecting our natural world.


Top - Katie Morris (left) and Dustin Lynch (right) at the Fourche La Fave River assisting Jeff Quinn of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Quinn was looking for the Longnose Darter (Percina nasuta), a rare species that is currently petitioned for federal listing, in order to determine if the species still persists in the watershed. Photo by Jeff Quinn, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Middle - Katie Morris snorkeling at Big Fork Creek Natural Area during an inventory of the fish and crayfish species. Katie is pictured with a Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus). Photo by Dustin Lynch.

Bottom - During the dedication event at Hall's Creek Canyon Natural Area, Katie Morris shows some of the younger attendees darters and crayfish that live at the natural area. Photo by Leslie Patrick.

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