Graduate Ag Research Spotlight
"In the Forestry and Natural Resources Department, you have the resources to do what you need to do and a mindbank of really smart people with different skill sets."
- Benjamin Pauli, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Madison, Wisconsin native Ben Pauli grew up in a city but was always drawn to the natural world. At Lawrence University, a small liberal arts school, he explored biology, ecology and wildlife. Opportunities to conduct field research took him to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, to Wyoming to catch prairie dogs and to the Phillipines to study bats - and confirmed his education goals. "It was a way to cast out on what I wanted to do with my life", he explains. "You think you might enjoy something, but you have to know what it's like when you start doing the work." Biology degree in hand, Pauli began to search for prospective graduate school advisors. At Purdue, he found Patrick Zollner, associate professor of quantitative ecology. Pauli came to Purdue in 2007, completed a master's degree under Zollner's guidance, and stayed on.
Pauli's dissertation research focuses on the Indiana bat, a federally designated endangered species. From its winter hibernation in caves in and around southern Indiana, the mammal migrates into forests throughout Indiana and other eastern states in the warmer months. Pauli works closely with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which manages the state forests and harvests timber from them. "The DNR wants to more effectively balance these competing interests - timber harvest and species preservation," Pauli explains. His work mapping critical habitat for the bat allows the DNR to prioritize where its timber harvest should occur. His research further involves computer simulations to determine how different types of forest management might impact bat populations in the future.
Beyond helping the DNR meet federal requirements, Pauli appreciates the "immediate, practical implications" of his work. "I'm working directly with the people who manage these properties," he says. "And I get to study mammals that fly, use echolocation to navigate at night and have a whole bunch of really cool things about them."
Last semester, Pauli cotaught his own class for the first time. He credits Zollner for supporting this unexpected interest: "This is a place for high-flight, great research, but when I found a passion for teaching, he was willing to adapt the trajectory to give me that piece of it. That kind of flexibility makes him a great advisor."
Pauli is on track to complete his doctorate this summer and is "knee-deep" in the process of determining future plans that he hopes will involve teaching and master's level advising. He remains drawn to the outdoors, but acknowledges that spare time is spare indeed: "My wife and I love to go canoeing, but I can't remember the last time we did that."