Kyle Nguyen

2021 Restoration Scholar – UC Davis

Working in the sweeping, wide-open spaces of the San Joaquin Valley, Kyle Nguyen spent much of this summer looking closely at some of the area’s tiniest creatures.

Out of the San Joaquin office of River Partners, the Ecological Management and Restoration major researched insect biodiversity, aimed at a future understanding of species abundance and richness that will help the conservation agency measure its efforts in restoring the health of the ecosystem.

“I set pitfall traps throughout our different fields to catch any terrestrial insects to see how different stages of restoration impacts the insect population in regards to abundance and richness,” he said. “Also, I performed visual inspections to see what flies around and used a butterfly net to sweep the floor to a broader range of what lives there.”

Nguyen said insect populations are an excellent indicator species of changes that are helpful (or harmful) to an ecological area.

“They are a good measure of progress and can help us understand if the vegetation is bringing in more biodiversity,” he said. “Everything is tied together.”

Entering his senior year at UC Davis, Nguyen looks back on his River Partners summer internship as a real-world opportunity that truly complemented his academics.

“Studying ecological restoration, everything I’ve learned is from the classroom, so all the knowledge was theoretical,” he said. “With River Partners and actually doing the work, I can see behind-the-scenes more. It’s more than just planting trees in the ground, I’m monitoring to make sure it’s still alive, to see what you plant affects the animals that were living. It’s a more holistic perspective of what I’m studying.”

And that view behind the curtain has given Nguyen a greater appreciation for the work that is being done.

“I’ve learned that it’s a lot harder, especially depending on which ecosystems we’re working in,” he said. “Restoration in a desert, you’re facing different factors such as heat and sand, compared to something like a riparian ecosystem as we’re going through mud or a big, herbaceous layer. It probably helped me figure out what kind of ecosystem I would like to specialize in, instead of just learning about restoration overall.”

Saying his passion lies more with teaching, Nguyen hopes to pursue his credential, where he can then share what he’s learned—possibly teach a horticulture class—and inspire scores of elementary school children. And if all goes well, he would impact the lives of dozens of students every year, while spreading the knowledge and wisdom he in part learned at River Partners.

“Environmental science and restoration are very broad terms—and not necessarily knowing what an ecologist did has given me the opportunity to talk to them, to see what they’re doing,” he said. “And that has helped me think about and figure out what I want to do.”