Calgarian works to save local species
It was Lea Randall’s passion for nature that led her to become a population ecologist, studying how species populations change and interact with their environment. Growing up in Yukon, Randall was surrounded by nature from a young age.
“I grew up really just living in the bush often,” she says. “My experience growing up as a child really just fostered a love of nature and inspired me to want to conserve it.”
Randall’s interest in different animals’ interactions with their environments, as well as a knack for statistical analysis, helped her choose a career in population ecology, which is a combination of the two.
While Randall now works at the Calgary Zoo, she has had an interesting journey leading up to her chosen career, which includes a fine arts degree and a job as a tattoo artist. Randall adds, “I’ve also had some jobs like table waiting and chamber-maiding, and all those things might have sort of made me want to go back to school.”
So, at 26, Randall began her journey to population ecology. She completed a science diploma at Yukon College, a BA in science at the University of Victoria, and a MA in science at the University of Calgary. Through her schooling she was given the opportunity to participate in fieldwork with the Yukon government, studying a variety of animals ranging from wolverines to dragonflies.
“That was when I got one of my first opportunities to look at population dynamics,” says Randall. After five years of working on and off with the Yukon government, she applied for a job studying frogs with the Calgary Zoo.
The job requires a unique set of skills, from backing up trailers, to analyzing statistics, to writing papers. For Randall, it felt like a perfect fit.
“It was interesting that all the skills that I had, I couldn't have just gotten in one place, and I couldn't have predicted that they would have been useful and led me to get the job that I have now,” she says.
Randall credits her success to jumping at every opportunity available, and simply being in the right place at the right time.
She is now working to conserve and rehabilitate the population of northern leopard frogs in Alberta and British Columbia. “I guess I would say that frogs chose me,” she laughs.
Northern leopard frogs are an at-risk species in Canada due to habitat loss and wetland drain-age. There is also concern with chytrid fungus, which has already wiped out several species of frogs globally.
Randall is working to help increase the frog numbers and reintroduce them into the wetlands where they were once plentiful. She also hopes to answer questions about the impact of disease and how the environment influences the frog populations in Alberta.
To do this, Randall combines fieldwork, including surveying the frogs, with office work, including statistical analysis. Randall also writes papers that she hopes will lead to change.
Randall speaks about her work with heart, saying, “I love feeling passionate and proud about what I do. I really feel like what I do makes a difference for the species.”
In the future, Randall would like to do further hands-on conservation work. “If we want to see leopard frogs return, I think we are going to need to do more.”
Outside of studying frogs, Randall hopes to continue studying the relationship between animals and disease. She’s also interested in expanding her studies to other parts of the world, particularly South America.
Thumbnail courtesy of Audrey Gagné-Delorme
- By Kaycee Boe