Growing up, Sam Lima was broadly interested in biology, but it wasn’t until college when she started learning about the many ecological and climate crises facing the world that she decided to study ecology. Her first exposure to the field of urban ecology was in the Applied Wildlife Ecology Lab, led by Professor Nyeema Harris – and that was when she found her niche within ecology.

Lima graduated from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Honors Program in ecology, evolution and biodiversity with Distinction from the University of Michigan in winter 2020. Her thesis was published Jan. 25, 2021 in the journal, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

They investigated how cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) responded to different threats in the city of Detroit. “These threats included humans, coyotes (Canis latrans) and domestic dogs,” Lima explained. As an important prey resource, rabbits must stay alert to survive. “We found that in areas with high coyote and domestic dog activity rabbits tend to be more vigilant of their surroundings, but around humans they didn't heighten their vigilance. This is really interesting because it means rabbits have at least somewhat acclimated to the human dominated landscape but they still see dogs as a threat. Since dogs are similar to coyotes in morphology but have much higher densities in the city, it's possible they have functionally replaced coyotes in the urban system.”

Sam Lima presents her first poster at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Symposium in 2018. Image credit: Rumaan Malhotra.

“I am very proud of Sam’s work and want to highlight the accomplishment of her senior thesis being published in a peer-reviewed journal. Participating in research and getting exposure to the learning community with research labs can truly be a transformative experience for undergraduates,” said Harris, Lima’s advisor in the AWE Lab. “Her findings are significant in highlighting that expected predator-prey behaviors are maintained despite anthropogenic pressures emergent in a cityscape. We’re excited to share our work from Detroit, as this city is ecologically and socially distinct from others throughout the nation.” 

Coauthors include EEB doctoral graduate student Siria Gámez, Harris and Nathaniel Arringdale, a lab technician in the AWE Lab at the time, currently a master’s student in the School for Environment and Sustainability. 

Lima loved many things about undergrad at U-M including studying abroad in Barcelona for a semester – “which was incredible! I loved living in Spain and I can't wait to go back someday. At Michigan, I was really grateful to have learned in an environment with so many resources available to me.

“Being in the AWE Lab was truly the highlight though.” Her favorite lab activity was attending the Ecological Society of America conference in 2018 in New Orleans where she presented some of their research, “an opportunity I never thought I would have in undergrad. I had a ton of support throughout the whole process, which obviously made the whole thing possible. My experience with the lab is what motivated me to apply to graduate school and continue to study ecology!”

She will begin a doctoral program in wildlife biology in fall 2021.

“I just want to thank Dr. Harris and all the grad students and other members of the lab that were there when I was. They helped me learn so much and I will always be so thankful for having worked with them.”