Megan is fascinated by the unforeseen biodiversity our cities can harbor. Birds are one of the most ubiquitous of the non-human city-dwellers, and one of her very favorite contributors to biodiversity. Coupling her curiosity with urban nature and her penchant for Aves, she focused her dissertation research on an unexpected bird habitat – a polluted abandoned rail yard located in Jersey City, NJ. Since abandonment over 60 years ago, the site has become an urban wildland in the midst of one of the most densely populated areas of the country. To a bird, such “accidental” habitats can be a welcome shelter among the pavement, but there are potential hidden risks such as insufficient food resources and exposure to toxins. To better understand this cost/benefit tradeoff, she investigated avian use of native vs. non-native fruiting plants, as well as bioaccumulation of heavy metals soil pollutants across trophic levels within the rail yard. The primary takeaway of her work is that, although there’s still more to learn, urban wildlands like the rail yard do seem to act as a safe refuge for birds in the face of shrinking natural habitats, and potentially, a place where humans can share her fascination with urban nature.
After completing her PhD, and a lot of on-the-side science communication training, Dr. Litwhiler switched career paths and became a professional science communicator. She now works for the Museum of Science, Boston, where she is part of a small, specialized team that partners directly with researchers to help them achieve their Broader Impacts goals. They provide academic science communication training to foster cross-disciplinary relationships, as well as training in and a wide variety of opportunities for public outreach and engagement. Megan also develops and presents content for the Museum based on their partners’ research in the form of stage presentations, hands-on activities, podcasts, and special events. You can check out some of their work at https://www.youtube.com/user/NanoNerds