From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.
Position Wildlife Biologist
Department Arizona Department of Game and Fish
Organization University of Arizona
Verma traces her enthusiasm for desert animals as far back as age seven, when her brother began calling her “Miss Ecology.” Her continued fascination with nature led Verma to pursue a bachelor’s degree in ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
After graduation, unsure whether she was ready to pursue graduate school, Verma took a job assisting a U of A Ph.D. student who was studying native leopard frogs. For over two field seasons, she trapped frogs, snakes, and lizards in southeastern Arizona, and in the process developed skills and experience vital to field biology. Currently, Verma is putting that experience to work with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish as a wildlife biologist, a job she saw posted on the World Wide Web.
The studies in which Verma is involved currently include projects aimed at evaluating the status and distribution of seven species of native Arizona frogs. During the past two decades, the range of some native frogs has shrunk dramatically, and data gathered by Verma and others indicate that remaining populations have become severely fragmented or few in number.
Along with determining status and distribution, data from Verma’s studies are being used to develop conservation projects for Arizona amphibian populations. The goal of these projects is to enhance habitats and expand the number of frog populations. One pervasive threat to native frog populations in the Southwest is the introduction of non-native species such as bullfrogs, crayfish, and non-native sport fish. Competition and predation by these invaders often negatively impacts native species. A part of Verma’s job is to evaluate this impact on sensitive leopard frog populations and then attempt to reduce or eliminate it.
When asked about an average day in the field, Verma laughs and says “There’s no such thing! Depending on the weather, I get an early start on surveying frogs, measuring water quality and other habitat variables, and generally mucking around in some nasty places such as earthen cattle water tanks. Other times, I get to hike in some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.”
Field days are long and hard, sometimes lasting as long as 18 hours. Depending on the type of project she is working on that day, Verma may need to collect frogs for genetic analysis, or she may work on a particularly complex project: translocation. “The goal of these short distance translocation is to create new populations, to stabilize metapopulations, or groups of the same species of frogs living in different places, and to enhance their chances for survival,” says Verma. “Using this technique, we have had some successes and failures. We have been generally encouraged by our results and have learned quite a lot.”
When asked to give advice to students who might be interested in a similar career, Verma can’t say enough about getting hands-on experience in the field. “I got my job with Game and Fish because I had field experience. My bosses needed to hire someone who knew how to collect data, who they knew would be reliable, and who could go into the field and not get lost. My position does not require a bachelor’s degree, but of course that doesn’t hurt.”
She recommends students get as much experience as they can, because “being as diverse as possible can only help. If you get too pegged into one aspect of ecology, it can be difficult to move beyond that. The more knowledgeable you are, the more likely you are to find a project that is funded. Being an idealist, I like to pretend I’m not motivated by money, but when it comes down to it, I like to eat.”
Verma says the best thing about her job is that she has improved her skills as a field biologist, and she gets to be outside in the desert she loves. If she finds a research topic that particularly inspires her, she may go on for a Ph.D., but for now, she’s enjoying her work with the frogs.