What began with an anthropology class that Brooke Kohler ’13 took on a whim turned into a summer studying iguanas on a Caribbean island.
Kohler (Flemington, N.J.) recently attended the 110th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in Montreal after conducting research as a Mellon Scholar this summer in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. An anthropology & sociology major, Kohler assisted Crystal Fortwangler, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in environmental studies, in studying human perceptions of the island’s growing iguana population.
“My favorite thing about studying iguanas on St. John was getting to travel the island and meeting all different types of people,” says Kohler, a member of the track and field team. “We attempted a population count of iguanas on the island, so we were able to hike through all the beautiful parks and through the town and I really got to see St. John from many different perspectives.”
At this year’s meeting of the AAA, Fortwangler presented the research with which Kohler assisted in a panel discussion titled “Cultural and Human Ecological Perspectives on Multispecies Encounters.” The gist of the presentation, Kohler says, was to show the way that people view the iguanas in the face of the creatures’ climbing numbers.
“While it appears that there are many iguanas all over the island, the preliminary research I helped Crystal conduct demonstrated that iguanas like living off human resources, and more of them appear closer to where people live than in the natural parks,” says Kohler. “This causes the illusion that iguanas are everywhere when they are really not.”
The study is of particular importance, Kohler says, because the iguanas are protected by the National Park Service, so their population will only continue to grow—which may affect people’s opinions of them later on.
After attending the meeting of the AAA, which Kohler describes as filled with “unique and interesting panels going on everywhere all day long,” Kohler is certain that she wants to pursue more anthropology education after Lafayette.
“Every step we took in conducting the research process, from researching at Skillman Library to field work on St. John, was an experience I wish to relive again and again and pursue as a career,” she says.
Now conducting another independent study with Fortwangler, Kohler considers anthropology one of her passions—something she wouldn’t have predicted when she haphazardly signed up for her first class in high school.