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Rad Scientist Podcast: Oceanside Native Studies Parasite-Carrying Insects

Kaylee Arnold (right) and a colleague collect

Credit: Courtesy of Kaylee Arnold

Above: Kaylee Arnold (right) and a colleague collect "kissing bugs" from a palm tree in Panama in this 2017 photo.

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Kaylee Arnold grew up in Oceanside, but moved to Georgia to pursue a PhD in ecology. Despite her fear of heights, Kaylee climbs high up in the palm trees of ... Read more →

Aired: September 30, 2020 | Transcript

Kaylee Arnold grew up in Oceanside, in close proximity to many diverse habitats. The ocean, the mountains, and the desert inspired her love of wildlife.

Ultimately, volunteering at the San Diego Zoo is what inspired her to pursue a doctoral degree in ecology at the University of Georgia. Despite her fear of heights, Arnold climbs high up in the palm trees of Panama to collect her research subjects, kissing bugs. Specifically, she studies the gut bacteria of these parasite-carrying insects to broaden our understanding of how microbiome diversity is affected by environmental factors like deforestation.

After the video was released of a white woman threatening to call the police on birder Chris Cooper, Arnold and other Black scientists, part of the online group “BlackAFinSTEM”, started a social media campaign called Black Birders Week. The campaign, which mostly played out on Twitter, raised awareness of the issues that Black scientists and outdoorsmen face while enjoying or working in nature. It inspired a host of other weeklong events featuring Black excellence in STEM.

Arnold wasn’t able to go back to Panama to collect more data for her thesis due to COVID-19. It’s been a tough year, but she remains positive.

“You still have to keep pushing forward and find joy when you can find the light, just so that, you know, you can keep moving," she said.

Listen to Arnold's whole story on a new episode of "Rad Scientist," a KPBS Explore podcast.

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Kinsee Morlan
Podcast Producer & Project Coordinator

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