Holly Prendeville and Ryan Toohey

Recorded February 15, 2018 Archived March 12, 2018 40:01 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: cte000042


Holly Prendeville (40) with friend and colleague, Ryan Toohey (40), about their history together, their science careers and their time in the tropics.


  • Holly Prendeville
  • Ryan Toohey (b. 1977)

Recording Location

Alaska Forum on the Environment

Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:02 Okay, my name is Ryan to E. I am 40 years old. Today's date is February 15th 2018.

00:11 We are in Anchorage Alaska if they last before money environment and I am

00:17 Chicken with my friend and colleague

00:21 I am Holly printable. I am also 40 years old. It's the 15th of February 2018 in Anchorage Alaska at the Alaska forum for the environments with my friend and colleague Ryan.

00:37 All right. So I think we talked a little bit about maybe so we met and you said it was too and I remember getting there. I believe it was in the evening and came upon this group of people who had been there for a while. I was uncertain how long and knew each other. Well and I Believe necklace making eggplant Parmesan and so it was a very like mix, you know of who knew people but ye food and so is very welcoming cuz he was okay we made dinner. I made plenty have some and new new environment coming to Puerto Rico food that was

01:27 I believe that was listed as a federal position because it took a really long time to apply for it. So I applied for it. I believe maybe even in that summer. So I was at the Rocky Mountain biological laboratory doing research and I hadn't heard anything. So then I went back home to New Jersey and worked in the state park at the Nature Center. And while I was there, I then found out that I got the position in Puerto Rico and that it would start in February.

02:01 I was thinking another thing about night that I think I'll probably remember forever was walking to sitting down and chatting as getting to know people and then something bumped my foot and I said, I'm sorry and they're like, what is someone text me or I kick someone I like. Oh, sorry, if we haven't told you they're a lot of rats hear that was probably a rat that hit your foot and I was immediately laborers wanted to tuck my feet underneath me and not have them. Yeah, the rats were huge and prolific and challenging that we had to deal with them actually like climb trees and like I've never seen any

02:43 Oh my gosh cats throw a little bit smaller than the rodents of unusual size 12 in 15 in.

02:58 Are big they were substantial cuz we would have a trap them are the focal at the station would trap them and then get rid of them through drowning them. And that was that was challenging that's hard to experience and see you but then recognizing it wasn't healthy to have them there with us at least a foot long after my memories are even bigger.

03:26 Three bean

03:30 I am hungry.

03:33 I'm pushy like would I not afraid of us willing to run through our feet willing to you? No push to get to our food. So yeah, I had to be very careful about locking everything up and putting everything away. And I think that was one of the another lesson that went through like, oh, yeah your food. So this is what you need to do to make sure that it's still here in the morning.

03:55 There have you ever been doing like a tropical rainforest before Capco ecosystem? I had I had spent six months and Panama before that. So I had to volunteer to work with his Smithsonian and went down to help with their bioprospecting project. So this was too kind of just survey all the native plants to see if they had some properties to them that could help fight disease cancer and just kind of doing a just broad spectrum of what's out there and can can they help so I helped with the cruise go out and collect the field material and then do the first a chemical extraction process and then it went off to different labs to be tested for all sorts of different diseases that are common in the tropics. But then also like HIV cancer and see if they were even though I think somewhere used as to see if they would kill insects and things of that nature was so really just kind of doing a very broad sweep. So it was great experience to be down there and get to

04:55 For a lot of Panama and see places that most people wouldn't be able to say that I was there before Federico Field Station there. What was it what it was or that look like and

05:14 Sound like and feel like

05:17 Yeah, I agree tropical forest warm humid. Particularly. I had been in New Jersey before getting there. So it was Winter and then getting there in February. I was just very, you know, the seen the large Forest tropical foliage everything covered in green everything really dense. So, you know, there's trails to go along but then harder if you know, you couldn't just kind of get off the road and go explore somewhere without needing to I had a machete or do some bushwhacking.

05:46 But then when you get to the top of the forest, which is part of what I was there measuring trees as you were but on a different project your project was on a nice like a level area. Where are my project that I was helping was going up. The total project was being two aspects of a mountain of the mountain and getting class. I think every 50 m elevation in setting up a few is 100 square meter plot in the measuring every tree to see what was there in the idea that project was to get an idea of what the forest composition was and then how it would change chapter hurricane. So the amazing thing was how different the forest was as he went up the mountain and short person than 5 feet tall. And so when I get to the top of the trees because up there it's very windy and much cooler the trees are much shorter. And so I became a Giants because I was at the top in the canopy of those trees where as as you're going down the mountain.

06:46 He's getting much much taller. And you know, I feel much more diminutive in that Forest.

06:53 And were you guys looking at a response after a hurricane? And then wait until there is a large hurricane in I think technically what happened this year with Maria and who was before Maria another woman's name that there's another hurricane and I can't believe I'm blanking on it. But Maria was much bigger before and I think that was a huge response since they were both Category 5 and seeing the pictures now of the forest. I don't recognize it at all. All the leaves saw the green foliage has been strapped and that tall canopy that you know, I think I've been a tropical forests and feeling you know small because you have these towering trees isn't there right now? I know the leaves are starting to grow back now, but in the pictures that I seen it's unfamiliar and Baron and if the sign saying

07:50 El Yunque wasn't there. I don't know that I would recognize where the picture was taken. So I don't what I don't know is if someone has gone back I have chatted with the folks at the research station and they found they relocated your plots in the trails to get to the pot that you are at but they have not begun the process to find the numerous plots that I was working out because they were much smaller in scale. I'm a smaller in scale and spread out and even when we were setting them up, we wondered how somebody was going to relocate a lot of bushwhacking and Pals made her own paths and up and down the mountain gone in and labeled everything over a centimeter. So there's all these ribbons and tags everywhere and is really that was the first vegetation project I've ever worked on.

08:50 And it just incredible. I know that.

08:56 There's kind of methods existed and I and even that project has a hold of those sites are throughout the earth look like during the same exact methods comparison is is really neat and then we followed similar methods for RS4 that comparison sake what are plots are much smaller for adjust Xmas essity we wouldn't be done yet.

09:24 Did I do you have any stories from the particular day that you remember from the the field out there the plants being able to identify them, you know, you're just kind of glancing up and you can see a few leaves and you're able to identify. I mean try to remember how many pages are in there and you know in the beginning it seemed overwhelming like how am I ever going to be able to ID days and just going to be the measuring person and somebody else is going to the idea but by the end I had them all or have met most of them. I'm sure there's a few tricky ones, but I remember, you know my conversations with John who is leading the project and you know, just chatting about going to grad school and you know what he thought processes and kind of just chatting with him about my interests of going there and having those conversations kind of just, you know, sitting out in the forest riding about you know, my future where I'll be.

10:25 It's interesting to think about that. Now that I've taken down along that Journey HD now and I think about when I was contemplating going in and what am I going to do? And what will I work on and now here I am but one day that sticks out. I was getting trained in the beginning and my predecessor Molly was all of us are out measuring and we were going to a new transact and we heard since cuddling into it was a mongoose is going pie and actually started to chase her and we see how to write GPS equipment. So we're trying to use it to to protect her and make scary and scared away until finally it went away and what I should share that in Puerto Rico the mongooses frequently have rabies. So it made it even scary wasn't the small little mammal coming after her but it was a potential of getting rabies and then having to deal with that so I think we all ran quite a

11:25 And then eventually it got scared off and we realized we might have been near its nest which is why I was not happy with us and coming after us so we found a new route. It did not go down that path anymore the challenges you don't expect without measuring trees and playing with plants.

11:44 What I remember stories like I remember weren't there glow glow-in-the-dark fungi mushrooms along the trail to go to figure that out.

11:58 We usually don't go out at night. Although we did have the station and we would have people that would come in for a couple days or weaker. I work at we're working on different projects until they're actually ended up being like a number of different groups that came through and I don't remember one was looking at it.

12:22 Snails in the night time until they would go and there was literally be on the opposite schedule of us and so sleeping during the day and then going out all night and I think Peyton and snails and then there is another guy that was looking at the

12:52 Stink bugs through those projects to do mushrooms and gather really need.

13:13 No, it's kind of something. I got of a fairy tale song for you all started before I did. So after you left then a back route came in so similar where they would be out at nights and then I'd be out during the day or so each of us trying to be quiet and not keep us up. But at that point in time it was myself in that group there. So when they were out in the field than I was the only one in the station and that's when the rats became a little more intimidating cuz you can't hear them more and you're the only one there and wondering what that noise is and one evening because fun of science unexpected things of science. I was sleeping and woke up to a big bang and heard another one. Someone had parked our car at the Gate of the station, which is if I recall correctly, maybe like quarter mile half a mile so you can't really see it. There's the forest.

14:13 Their car in front of the Gate of the station and put it on fire. So there's no way that I was hearing where is the glass windows exploding in the car exploding and the back Roots Alice? And so I'm just sitting there I'm going I will wait for them to come back and hope nobody nobody comes up to the station which they didn't and in the morning. They just said yeah that car is I or we need to go get a tow truck. And you know, I was just I was just ignoring your call seemed like burnt-out cars on the side of the road some weird Insurance science cuz I remember being a little bit of like a party site for people just drive up and read.

15:04 Sometimes you find my good old Santa Rita statues and and stuff. So yeah, and that's during that time. That's when I became really good friends with Stephanie cuz she was at the other field pay location. And so I would go down and we'd like watch a movie and then I go back up to 10 Mi my facility. I think it was about maybe a mile or two from each other but it's been really fun trying to think of other friends that I made during that in that how we have each kind of Taken different paths in science and but yet are still connected and still, you know, colleagues and helping each other out or working with each other in different aspects. So just thinking of the number of people that we rent but seems like

15:57 A random group of people who had the common interest of plants and measuring plants and how we reached continued along at a different shirt back trajectory and science are still still connected and taco bit more about some of those people that aquatic from there. She went to graduate school and worked on Plants aquatic plants and then focusing on those that are important to fish and then has continued along the official official he's lying and now she's moved into a more administrative role of the scientist and the natural resource managers in that Raw.

16:45 Thinking of Nick and being a city planner city parks planner, you know that's you know, so just kind of interesting to see the different paths. You can take I think many people think of again that science of white-owned not the one thing you do and that you don't think of, you know, managing city parks natural resource manager is managing, you know State lands are federal lands helping people understand the science communicating the science all the different paths that we can take trying to think of. Those are the ones that are coming to my mind more readily and then of course the path that you've taken my path

17:27 I want to hear or do I start a group in Pennsylvania Pittsburgh and literally like used to stop around streams of my dad do stream high? Can we spend a lot of time Outdoors his family? And so I there's all that kind of it. We did a little patrol around her house every couple months and picked up stuff alongside the road and and so I will not die.

17:58 I kind of got involved with some environmental stuff through college out of the stone school in Jersey and work with environmental toxicologist and decided. Hey, this is something I think is really neat and

18:11 And yeah, and then moved out to Washington and I'd always wanted to move out west and then be out west and finished up my undergraduate there in Bixby did kind of water quality in take things in but I'll let you know. It's beyond us a lot of it was.

18:30 I found the science very interesting. But I always a big draw was these field jobs that I kind of started learning about sand and and Puerto Rico is a great example of one of these things where you didn't make a whole bunch of money, but you got to go live in this other nail place for couple months and you know, it was always felt to me very much like the like a reality show wasn't I don't think there's too many reality show sign of the times for letter like working together young 12 and 14 hours a day and then and then living together. Yeah, bring it all together now that you say it does sound like a real

19:28 I had really wanted to try to like learn a different language to and so I thought a thing for pretty good I think it on mine was to the university. I think so those kind of things are applied and got there and I still remember very clearly. I got there at night and I've never been anywhere tropical before and I'll be tied Florida kind of different and I remember just like looking out the balcony of one of the outside going to text we were on and and just seeing the forest and just thinking like the got there so many plans out there and not really knowing what was out there at all and I remember somebody and I can't remember who was but somebody came up there cuz I was just kind of like looking out into the woods and it was dark and what woman care to me.

20:27 So we can fall asleep that every night. And then yeah, I just have so many good memories other people that we experience.

20:41 I remember that one of the neatest times that we had. We are all working out there in a bear sitting down for lunch after I went to Costa Rica to do some graduate graduate work and they are very different places know if a country has won more things that can hurt you kill you and in part because of fairly safe rainforest Fisher-Price of the rainforest and the forest and there and they were like running and trees that are flying but they were like hitting trees as they were going and we're like what is going on? And how do you remember Kristen choose a an inspiring herpetologist? I'm all the sudden she like got up and like

21:34 Ran over like ran away from the group. And so we all were like followed her Puerto Rican boa constrictor, which was very rare. Look super rare are the Project Lead wanted to see it and it's a gorgeous snake is probably five or six feet long and black but kind of like iridescent purple color with us like white herringbone on its stomach and that's what I'll just kind of like it around and watch that for a while and that was theirs is really really needs.

22:14 Yes, I was just kind of a you know, a science geek and a bit of a little bit of Wanderlust and wanted to see different places and see different things and I was very happy I made with that experience totally made me decide. I wanted to go back to graduate school and wanted to try to do it somewhere else outside of the US and the program in Costa Rica. I was doing things that I thought I want to do water quality in hydrology. And so, how about you? How did you decide to do your your your PhD? Did you have like family or friends that have done that before?

23:05 I try to remember for the Masters Degree in entomology and then PhD.

23:12 Andrology, I don't know he has an interesting background of working with insects working with viruses. And so I was aware that that was an option. I was aware that it was a path and so I did have that growing up and then my family were definitely enjoyed like being outside and my mom had a really just Kenai she could a spot things, you know, there's a hawk or there's you know, and she's you know just went to high school doesn't have any scientific training or anything but just a very keen eye and so just kind of the awareness of what was around us and enjoying nature just always curious of how it worked in high school. I had a really fantastic opportunity and it wasn't until I moved away temporarily and came back that I realize how fantastic of an opportunity I had that we actually had science electives. So we had oceanography man in his environment astronomy in genetics Chopper metal shop. We could do a science elective. So I

24:12 Took most of them and had really fantastic science Educators in high school. And in my biology class. Remember, my teacher would read us the signs X in the New York Times tomato is Rita's okay to use this is what's happening right now in science and even giving this this passion or encouraging our interest and curiosity and so the chatting with him and chatting with others. Is it go to go to college when you go to college and I'll see if you get into a research lab and you know, just see if you're interested in that, you know, try it out. So when I got to college it was the first thing I did was look for a lab that I could work on a little less. Do you know hey, I want to work then. What do you want to do? I don't know and just interested and I worked with flour beetles that which is intracellular bacteria that live within the Beatles and can affect the gender of their babies depending on if Mom or Dad are infected and then affects the ratio of The Offspring of weather.

25:12 Gmail or if it's more 50/50 ratio, so we worked with that and then in that lab, I stayed with them all four years of college or I should say three years cuz I did one near where I did like a study abroad and wasn't at the institution for a year but works with them and worked on honey bees with them, which is what's you have filled my current apiary that I own at home, but that's my side by side a happy but that really got me interested and see what my options were in that we can design studies and address questions then you know how to untangle the the wonders of the world of just you know, why you know, you look at these beetles and see all that. They're all their offspring are females not until you look inside their cells to see there's a bacteria in there that's driving that you know, it's amazing close my mind that you know, all these processes could be happening. It's not something you can see it's not something that's a parent. You have to look deeper to

26:12 First and and then in the Summers, I would kind of also had that Wonder lesson travel and so my first summer I went out to California and studied and ectoparasites are ticks and mites on lizards on the Western Fence lizards, but with them you had to mark them and it included clipping their toes which was the approved and still is the approved method to do so, but I was too empathetic and didn't like to hurt them. So I realized after that and I actually didn't like hurting The Beatles And so realize I needed to work with plants cuz I didn't I didn't you know, I figured they wouldn't mind as much that would need to have it happen. But so after that summer I then spent the rest of my summers at the Rocky Mountain biological laboratory doing research on plants and pollinators and effects of herb Avery and and so really enjoyed working out there just gorgeous beautiful landscape and hiking in the mountains and seeing a color of blue.

27:12 I hadn't seen before cuz you're at such a high elevation. The atmosphere is actually changed and though that blue is just much darker than you see anywhere near sea level and then you know being in those groups in hearing about different science. I knew this is the path I wanted to go on and but I still wanted a component to be more applied. There's that bit of a telling my parents and my grandmother what I do and when it's working with the lizards, they have a component in their bodies that clears Lyme disease. And so then my grandmother was telling everyone I was finding a cure for Lyme disease. Didn't know that's quite a grandma, but she took the few pieces of my story and I was going to save the world. And so I think those that kind of influence me to get something to be a bit more applied in that easier to make connections with what I was working on a cure for Lyme disease.

28:12 And so let's see ya helped out and did some other kind of short-term possessions. I got to travel and you know, it was in Colorado then went to Puerto Rico for 6 months and help out on that project and then backs to the states and was in Virginia and Georgia helping out on a research project. They're trying to understand some toxins within the plants and how that affected pollinators and so they need to be pollinated be at their nectar actually has a toxic component to it. So how do you know is that a way to balance that it makes their pollinators move around more and just trying to understand those Dynamics and so from there. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and wound up in Nebraska and working on virus-resistant transgenic squash and Native squash within the United States or wild squash has been here for at least ten thousand.

29:12 Play some states don't consider it native even though it's been here for ten thousand years and looking to see what viruses in the wild and if these plans ever require the transgene, so this is a gene that had been put into the plan for the client didn't have itself that actually came from the virus and because it was in there it can further resistance or really at all or if you get infected with the virus, but it wouldn't show the symptoms. So then the fruit would still be marketable because people don't like ugly fruit, they like it to be pretty and not have spots and not be a weird shape, you know, zucchini has a shape I say that and I think I'll bring some picture. What is it Kenny looks like but sometimes he would get a virus actually start getting kinks in it and like look like a letter L or you know, I'll be a zigzag and so by having this transgene it then I would still have good food production and be very marketable.

30:08 But then there's a question of have you now given a tolerance to a wild plants. They're the same exact species. And so I looked at those things to understand if there was a risk there. Yeah, and you know now here we are in Alaska looking at plants and genetics and interactions and just trying to understand how they work on their local environment and that has gotten me to the real eyes were killed need to understand science how to communicate it. How do you get the information that they needed so that they can make decisions in their everyday life and that's part of my current position. There is a component that I bring in about plant genetics, but for the most part, it's very very small component of of what I do and try to give information. So folks can make decisions on their agricultural grazing and Forestry.

31:08 How to manage all of that in the context of changes in the climate that are happening right now. So how did you get from Costa Rica to Alaska? That's a bit of a hop with university-idaho my time down in in Costa Rica and I was trailing spouse my we were married at the time but Sertraline whatever the partner and my wife had done a number of interviews at different places.

31:54 And some of those were in places that we don't really want to move to like, Texas and I'm sure Texas is nice but not the place for us in other places where he is and she got the offer from University of Alaska and was always a place that we've been interested in like at least to visit and I was acting really funny. It was I've been kind of a late search so they got I think they called her in in mid-july and said, hey we'd like to offer you the position and it was it was Blazing in Idaho Boise to remember the day and then it was like mid mid to late July and then leave in like other than if it had you visited cuz she would have done it for the NC visited but you hadn't even been there.

32:54 Aerie 370 yeah, let's go for a we were also very very poor at the time and I took two days later. I mean we literally like packed up all their stuff and drove up and had this been made we took like 2 weeks to get up here and then like a week later. She was teaching and the fickle thing until I was actually still finishing up some my my graduate work for my PhD and but then I just got lucky I ended up started kind of teaching for the university for a little bits and

33:38 And then I got involved with the tribal organization. And from there. That was a really incredible experience because all of a sudden and I was going to all these different Villages a lot of alaskans don't even get to go to unless you're really from them and so and they are just

33:59 You know these incredible places with Incredible challenges incredible resources and incredible people and so is I fell in love with the laughter almost immediately and then those people that I was working with and yes, I've been really lucky but it was a big professionally in for my research a huge change from drinking from a tropical system to an Arctic and sub-arctic system. There's no permafrost in Costa Rica. Too many really deep soils. If I guess. Kind of rainfall in very different systems way different vegetation and I think of that. That of Alaska that is so dry.

34:59 Images of snow-capped mountains and Glaciers and permafrost and that's where the water is coming from not from the sky place, but the actual precipitation is

35:14 For the majority is a sound down in southeast to get nine years and I've learned a lot and got to see all these amazing places and and I really like him for the through my graduate school stuff. We worked a lot with different stakeholders. And so I've been able to kind of keep that within my own research and and work and and I just really enjoy that part she had in my wife's a social scientist. And so we kind of work on that together and think about ways to engage with people that are interesting you get to work with you or your spouse and connect on that level career-wise professionally, but then just even along those lines of working with other disciplines and how I can broaden your perspective.

36:14 Yeah, they don't always appreciate that houses zoom out and interact with with others.

36:23 Yeah, I've really super interested in social science and I'm just a little bit to it. That is can be I guess an easy way to get some love like applicability of your your research if you you know, if you're looking at something as a hydrologist or want to call you person once you bring in that human component of some interviews or a or a survey and you find out why like why people are interested in this actually say that for me that's just a great Khan marriage of of stuff and I

37:03 Yeah, it's been really fun to explore and it's and it's awesome to be able to do with my

37:08 Partnering and it's been a great component of my current work to is getting to work with other types of scientists and get that broader perspective and make that connection with people and understand how even some basic scientist that seems doesn't have that direct connection or media connections have people can actually help them things that you wouldn't expect again, you know looking at these lizards and their texts on them and then someone figured out okay, they're able to clear out Lyme disease, you know, who if that basic research never happened would we have ever realize that there might be something in there that eventually we might be able to use to help people with Lyme disease. I know we're not there yet. But you know, it's that broad Suite of Science and I appreciate that, you know, the interdisciplinary getting different scientists gather having it connected with people but also recognize the importance of that basic science and how it helps us all go forward.

38:08 I've enjoyed going down this memory lane with you who is wonder where the wind that is not right? When have you made it? When when is that experiences in size now? Do you have any words of advice for Lake?

38:37 Younger kids that might want to

38:40 Get into it earlier. Yeah, I would say there's no one path. I think when you're going through middle school and high school. There's a very clear path and even in college, you're going to take this major you need to take these credits. But when you got out into the real world the skills that you need or going to be really varied and so that there's not going to be one path to take and I think you can do a combination of things that's going to help you got there. I would say were both successful scientist and we did it in very different ways and took very different path and that doesn't make that's not a qualitative but it just all possible. You can do it in a variety of ways. And so I think that's helpful for the a new generation of scientists that be aware that there's not one way to do it and that if you want to go on a different path or take some additional skills that may not even be obvious that they're related that they can build it make you better at what you're doing and that's what I gain from working with other scientists and other people in different career Paths of how I can be better so I would just suit

39:40 Best bet there's a variety of ways to get their awesome.

39:51 Meet up in Alaska has been great reconnecting and and sharing this time with you.