Research

My main research interests include community ecology, the effects of forest management on animal communities, maintaining fitness of shrinking populations, and landscape genetics. Empirical research that could benefit wildlife populations with practical applications interests me the most, but I am also motivated by research questions aimed at discovering animal behaviors and basic ecology. I have experience with a range of research methods, including: mist-netting and banding passerine birds; radiotracking adult coyotes and digging pups out of dens; trapping and handling raccoons, Virginia opossums, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, eastern chipmunks, and several small mammal species. I have over a decade of experience with genetic protocols and analyses. Finally, I have experience with a  range of analysis methods, including ArcGIS, R, mark-recapture programs such as MARK, and  Bayesian analysis programs such as STRUCTURE and GENELAND.

Undergraduate Research

As an undergraduate in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cincinnati, I was awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates fellowship, which led to an independent research project in the ecotoxicology soil lab of Dr. Jodi Shann. My experiment tested the effects of adding organic material to polluted soils. I accomplished this by setting up replicates of soil containers, with three replicates each of three treatments: no added material, added composted plant material, and planted rye seeds. I watered the treatments on a schedule and collected the elutes continuously. I then used gas chromatography to analyze the contents of the elute solutions, and found that added composted material decreased the elution rate of organic benzenes. This was an invaluable experience in how science works and the dedication it takes to get reliable results. In fact, after the summer REU fellowship ended, I re-ran the experiment to better control for environmental factors that could be affecting the outcome, and to run the experiment for a longer period of time.

In the year after finishing my Bachelor’s of Science, I was a Fulbright scholar in Vienna, Austria, researching wildlife use of the wildlife corridor between the Carpathian and Alp mountain ranges. I also volunteered with a grassroots conservation group, called Distelverein (“Thistle Group”), and worked on a project with the aim of signing up farmers in the Danube watershed area to set aside conservation areas in riparian zones. Part of this project included attending international meetings with stakeholders from Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

In the summer before I started my Master’s, I mist-­netted and banded birds for the Institute of Bird Populations. My most important lesson from that experience was how to be an observant field technician and to carefully record data, in addition to learning how to plan for field conditions. I also learned how to age birds by their feather wear and molting patterns, to identify birds by their song and calls, and, as part of habitat evaluation, I also learned a ton of plant species that summer!

Male Indigo Bunting, after banding

Male Indigo Bunting, after banding

Master’s Thesis

For my Master’s work at The Ohio State University, I analyzed over 5 years’ worth of blood, tissue, and hair (not recommended) samples from urban coyotes, including adults and pups. Most samples came from intensive and repeated sampling of study areas within the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area; this enabled me to investigate family relationships and mating behavior of these elusive predators. Through careful analysis, using genetic markers and radiotelemetry data, I produced evidence that mated pairs are monogamous for life. Moreover, I showed that coyote packs, while they consist mostly of closely related individuals, also include unrelated individuals that are apparently adopted into the pack.

Drugged coyote, with new ear tags and radiocollar. That is saliva, not blood, on the concrete (drugged animals drool excessively)

Sedated coyote, with new ear tags and radiocollar. That is saliva, not blood, on the concrete (animals under sedation drool excessively).

PhD Dissertation

For my PhD dissertation with Olin E. “Gene” Rhodes and Pat Zollner in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, I investigated the effects of interstate highways on the movements and genetic connectivity of raccoons, Virginia opossums, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, eastern chipmunks, and white-­footed mice. By investigating a suite of species, I could evaluate the implications of life history attributes (e.g., body size, culvert use, etc.) on the potential of a given species to traverse the highway. This information could then be applied to species of concern, depending on their corresponding life history characteristics. Using satellite imagery, I chose seven sites in Indiana with sufficient forested habitat on both sides of an interstate highway. With my colleague Tricia Tsai and 9 technicians over the three-year period, I live-­trapped at grids spaced progressively further from the highway to enable analysis of genetic connectivity across the highway and also across the  matrix of the landscape to compare the barrier effect of the highway to the barrier effects of other landscape features (natural and anthropogenic). Via population genetics analysis (mainly STRUCTURE and GENELAND), I found that connectivity was lower for raccoons in sites that lacked drainage culverts, and that connectivity was lower for squirrels in sites that lacked bridges. The highway was a greater barrier to gene flow than any natural barrier in the landscape. I also evaluated the isolation by distance signature of raccoons and opossums across the state. I found that there is no such signature for opossums, most likely due to high population turnover and therefore high linkage disequilibrium (not surprising for a nonphilopatric animal that can breed twice a year, 6-13 young at a time, and usually dies before the age of 3). Also, raccoons tended to exhibit population connectivity if the matrix was more forested despite large distances; however, genetic disruption occurred where the landscape between sampling areas was more agricultural or urban. I have thus far published two manuscripts from work on this project; one on the primers that we optimized for the squirrel genetic analysis, and one addressing the state-wide isolation-by-distance of raccoon and Virginia opossum populations. I am currently working on the next manuscript, which specifically focuses on the effects of interstate highways as genetic barriers to mouse, chipmunk, and squirrel  populations.  My co-authors and I plan to submit it to the Canadian Journal of Zoology. Two additional manuscripts from this work will be drafted and submitted this year.

With a sedated, juvenile raccoon.

With a sedated, juvenile raccoon.

Postdoctoral Research

As a postdoctoral researcher at Purdue, my work has focused on the effects of forest harvest techniques on terrestrial salamander, moth, and beetle communities. This is an interdisciplinary project funded by the Sun Grant Initiative, including colleagues from the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources (John Dunning, Mike Saunders, Eva Haveriova, Patrick Ruhl) and the Department of Entomology (Jeff Holland) at Purdue, in addition to a lepidopterist (Keith Summerville) at Drake University. The primary product of my postdoctoral work will be a manuscript outlining the ecological impacts of removing downed coarse woody debris (DCWD) after a timber harvest. I am also co-author on a manuscript exploring the economic costs and benefits of collecting DCWD for cellulosic ethanol or wood pellet production, and I am also working on publishing an extension publication to communicate our findings to landowners. This work has been rewarding, as it has broadened my horizons in forest ecology and statistical models. I presented the first stages of our meta-analysis of the effects of retaining or removing DCWD on forest taxa at the Midwest Fish and Wildlife conference in February 2015 and at the Sun Grant Initiative annual meeting in March, and I am currently planning to submit the manuscript for peer-­review by the end of April.

Looking towards the future, I plan to continue working on wildlife populations to improve our understanding of their survival among increasingly anthropogenic landscapes. I recently wrote a research proposal to study the genetic signatures of recolonization of wolves in Wisconsin,  but the funding did not come through. I recently submitted a research proposal to investigate the microclimate conditions of bat hibernacula and how these conditions may affect bat overwintering survival, especially in terms of pre-and  post-­white-­nose syndrome (WNS) exposure. I am interested in the effects of different forest harvesting techniques on threatened bat populations, especially those that roost in snags. I am also interested in exploring the genetic loss of bats due to WNS, to find signatures of the effects of populations undergoing bottlenecks in real time.

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