North Carolina’s marshes continue to fragment every day. Shelby Ziegler attempts to rebuild them by gathering data from the healthy wetlands that remain — a feat she often tackles in the middle of the night.
“As marshes become more eroded away, we want to preserve the ones that are providing the best habitat for juvenile fish,” Shelby Ziegler says.
On a brisk evening in early October, the UNC Ph.D. student and her team set out for a long night of field work in the marshes around Emerald Isle. Over the course of several hours, they’ll visit four different sites to set nets and traps to catch fish. Ziegler will then take those fish back to her lab to gather data on how each marsh ecosystem influences local fish populations.
As an undergraduate, Ziegler conducted field work that allowed her to establish a connection between the environment and the local community. She chose to pursue her Ph.D. at UNC because she knew she’d be able to do similar projects here.
“The fish ecology lab at UNC Institute of Marine Sciences has amazing study sites right outside its back door and has a history of conducting interesting landscape-scale experiments,” Ziegler says. “At UNC, I’ve had the opportunity to do exciting large-scale fieldwork that could be applied to protect both the environment and economy in my own community.”
“Marshes are known to be important habitats for recreationally important crustaceans and fishes, but not all marshes are created equal,” Ziegler says. “Everyone groups them together as one habitat.” She wants to find out how different marshes serve the animals residing there. To do this, she has established 18 research sites including three large mainland marshes, as well as small marsh islands.
Here, Lauren Clance prepares to set out the minnow traps at the first site.
Ziegler utilizes a variety of …