Women in Science: Katie Greenberg

The Women in Science series features women scientists from across SRS – their education, career paths, challenges, achievements, and inspirations.

Studying breeding bird population dynamics requires going out into the field to survey birds. When in the field, Greenberg uses both sight and sound to identify and record nearby birds. USFS photo.

Meet Cathryn (Katie) H. Greenberg, a research ecologist with the Upland Hardwood Ecology and Management unit located at the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in Asheville, North Carolina. Her research focuses on how disturbances, both natural and management-based, affect animal communities and food resources for wildlife in forests.

Greenberg didn’t always know that her interests lay in the forest. “I kind of stumbled into this field,” says Greenberg. “I didn’t know that you could make a living studying plants and animals in the woods!”

After getting an undergraduate degree in philosophy, Greenberg learned about the fields of wildlife and forest ecology while working in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She fell in love with the mountains and went on to get an M.S. and then a Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology. She has been working for the Southern Research Station ever since – first in Florida, then in the southern Appalachians of North Carolina.

While in Florida, Greenberg started a 24-year study addressing reptile and amphibian population dynamics in relation to climate and wetland hydrology.

Greenberg believes in the importance of communicating her forest research results and their implications with users, and she works to teach others about forest dynamics through publications and workshops. USFS photo.

In the southern Appalachians, she studies forest food resources – such as acorn and native fruit production – and how their abundances vary over time and after disturbances such as timber harvesting.

Greenberg partners with other Bent Creek scientists, forest managers, and University colleagues on experimental studies that address how fire or timber harvests affect tree regeneration and plant communities, as well as breeding birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

These multidisciplinary studies contribute new information about how plants and animals respond to different disturbance types, and helps facilitate science-based forest management.

Disturbances can increase the availability of some forest foods such as berries or fruits from trees. Some disturbance types can also change forest structure by reducing the tree canopy, increasing light, and promoting shrub cover. Varied forest structure can in turn attract pollinating insects and many species of birds and other wildlife.

The value of Greenberg’s work is greater because of its longevity and continuity. “Long-term studies allow us to see beyond short-term fluctuations in animal populations or fruit production. Together our research is building a more complete picture of a forest’s response to natural or human-caused disturbances. Each study adds in another piece of the puzzle,” explains Greenberg.

At this Bent Creek Experimental Forest silviculture workshop in 2012, Greenberg focused on oak regeneration, a task which requires active forest management to help oak trees grow amidst more competitive tree species. USFS photo.

While in the past, Greenberg spent her days working in the field collecting data on the abundance of breeding bird species and catching amphibians and reptiles in bucket traps, she now mainly works in her office at Bent Creek. She analyzes data and writes scientific articles so that others can learn about wildlife and plant responses to disturbances.

But Greenberg gets out when she can – into the field to check on studies, participating in silviculture workshops at Bent Creek’s training center, and giving research tours within the experimental forest.

To aspiring scientists, Greenberg says, “if you like science and field work, and you’re willing to work hard then don’t hesitate to pursue a career in wildlife or forest ecology.”

“And, just as importantly, remember that a meaningful work life and personal life are both attainable. Follow your interests, because that is part of what will make your work, and your life, meaningful,” says Greenberg.

What is Greenberg working on now? Visit Women in Science to learn more about Katie Greenberg and other SRS scientists.

For more information, email Naomi Cohen-Shields at naomic@princeton.edu.

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