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Laboratory of Holly Ernest

Nicole Carter

Nicole Carter

Nicole CarterPosition: M.S. Graduate May 2020 (Department of Veterinary Sciences, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources); Currently employed by biotech company
Project: Sea Otter Population Genetics, Genomics, and Disease Ecology
Education: B.S. University of Idaho

Research interests

Species are going extinct at an alarming rate and my aim is to use cutting-edge science to preserve at-risk populations while raising public support for habitat and wildlife conservation.

Southern sea otter genetics and disease ecology (University of Wyoming)

Southern sea otters get sick and die from a variety of causes including heart disease, parasitic infections, and end lactation syndrome. Environmental, demographic, and density-dependent factors have been identified that put otters at a higher risk of dying from certain causes, however we do not know how genetic factors impact risk of disease. We are investigating the relationship between genetic attributes and disease outcome in necropsied southern sea otters to gain a better understanding of the factors that continue to threaten this population.

Endemic Galapagos land snail evolution and ecology (University of Idaho)

Endemic island species are highly sensitive to invasive species. For this project, we quantified the impact of invasive rats on endemic Galapagos land snails. We collected snail shell samples on Floreana Island of snails that had and had not been predated upon by rats. We then quantified their morphology through specific shell measurements and compared measurements between groups to determine the selective pressure that invasive rats impose on snails.


Science Outreach

I strongly believe that an essential component to research is sharing science and engaging with the public and I am committed to making science outreach part of my career. Since beginning graduate school, I have been volunteering with the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium Science Kitchen program which funds K-12 science outreach events in the Wyoming community. I have led several outreach activities including food web jenga, disease outbreak simulations, mammal skull investigations, and edible cell modeling. I have also volunteered for large-scale events including the Wyoming State Science Fair, STEM Saturday, and University of Wyoming Day at the Museum. These events have given me the opportunity to share my love for science with hundreds of students, parents, and teachers and have fueled my passion for making science outreach a lifelong endeavor.




I grew up in Kent, Washington where I spent my time exploring the forests, mountains and waters of the Pacific Northwest. It was here that I developed my lifelong goal of saving our wild places and species. I graduated from the University of Idaho with a B.S. in Biology in 2018 where I was an active student leader in the University Honors Program and a sprinter on the Division I Track and Field team for four years. I spent my summers fine-tuning my interests in the conservation field as an environmental engineering intern in Seattle, WA, a research technician trapping and collaring pygmy rabbits in rural southern Idaho, and collecting samples for my project on the evolutionary pressures of rat predation on endemic land snails in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Through these experiences, my passion for wildlife conservation grew and I was driven to pursue a Master’s in conservation genetics at the University of Wyoming. Outside of science, my other hobbies include playing sports, hiking, and traveling (my goal is to visit every U.S. National Park).



Carter, N.H., Parent, C.E. May 2018. Quantifying the Effect of Invasive Rodents on Galapagos Endemic Land Snails. University of Idaho Undergraduate Thesis, Moscow, ID.



Carter, N.H., Miller, M.A., Gagne R.B., Bangoura, B., Johnson, C.K., Moriarty, M., Tinker, T., Gigley, J., Ernest, H.B. Feb. 2019. Investigating the relationship between genetics and disease outcome in necropsied southern sea otters. Sea Otter Conservation Workshop XI, Seattle, WA.

Carter, N.H., Miller, M.A., Gagne R.B., Bangoura, B., Gigley, J., Ernest, H.B., Oct. 2018. Genetics for sea otter disease ecology and conservation. Wyoming The Wildlife Society Conference, Laramie, WY.

Carter, N.H., Parent, C.E. Oct. 2017. Quantifying the Effect of Invasive Rodents on Galapagos Endemic Land Snails. University of Idaho College of Science Research Expo, Moscow, ID.

Carter, N.H., Parent, C.E. July 2017. Quantifying the Effect of Invasive Rodents on Galapagos Endemic Land Snails. Idaho Conference on Undergraduate Research, Boise, ID.

Carter, N.H., Parent, C.E. April 2017. Quantifying the Effect of Invasive Rodents on Galapagos Endemic Land Snails. University of Idaho Undergraduate Research Symposium, Moscow, ID.