Missouri State University

Leslie Brinkman

Following a passion into the rain forest

Leslie Brinkman's biology research sent her into the rain forest. Among her discoveries: "One salamander... can reduce carbon emissions from leaf litter by 178 pounds per acre."

Biology graduate student Leslie Brinkman has been researching salamanders in Panama. Over the course of several visits, she’s made progress toward understanding this charismatic species.

Leslie gathered data during nighttime sessions through the rain forest. She encountered plenty of challenges — everything from darkness to Africanized bees.

A better world, one salamander at a time

She wouldn’t trade these experiences, however; in addition to building skills and knowledge, Leslie’s salamander research contributes to the fight against climate change. Through their position in the food chain, salamanders play a critical role in maintaining ecosystems and preventing additional carbon from entering our atmosphere.

Leslie intends to devote her career to this work. She says, “There’s so many things against [salamanders]… habitat destruction, diseases, climate change, pollution. They’ve got the odds stacked against them, so I want to spend my life working to help them.”

Engaging undergraduates in research

As a teaching assistant, Leslie was easily able to engage undergraduate students in her research, and several traveled to Panama with her. One of them, Valerie Jones, describes it as “the biggest adventure I’ve ever been on,” and calls the trip “a lifelong dream.”

As Valerie says, “The more experiences you have like that and the more stories you have, the more enriched your life will be.”