Wildlife Conservation, habitat management, and landscape ecology
My research interests are centered on the conservation of wildlife populations. My general approach is to utilize ecological theory to produce research questions that apply directly to habitat management and conservation policy. The principles of landscape ecology provide a useful framework for posing conservation questions because managers and decision makers often face problems that span several spatial and temporal scales.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a collaborator on several projects as a graduate student and a wildlife biologist, and you’ll find brief descriptions of those projects below.
Grassland bird response to broad-scale conservation programs
In 2010 the KDFWR started monitoring grassland bird response to the largest federally funded private land conservation effort in the state’s history, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Several studies have shown the local (field-level) benefits of these kind of programs to grassland wildlife, but evidence for broad-scale effects at population levels are scarce. For this project, we are focusing on how landscape-level CREP densities influence local grassland bird densities, population growth rates, landscape connectivity, and (hopefully) metapopulation dynamics. Our end goal is to guide future landscape management of grassland birds and to provide best practices for the re-enrollment of land into CREP and similar conservation programs.
Using GIS to monitor the status of conservation programs
Restored grasslands of different age and management history have differing value to wildlife, and although understanding how conservation works at face value is important, the mechanisms behind the effects of conservation require fine-scale data. One of the most common management practices used by landowners enrolled in the Kentucky CREP is strip mowing. Using satellite images and ground truthing, we plan to estimate the intensity of mowing in all Kentucky CREP fields from 2010-2015. Through these efforts we can begin to understand if habitat quality differs among CREP fields and how that influences the response of grassland birds to the program. Not only does this have application to our research questions, but these techniques can be transferred to many other situations where the status of conservation efforts on the ground is largely unknown.
Factors influencing northern bobwhite hunter success on reclaimed minelands
When huntable populations are improved but hunter success remains stagnant, support for expensive habitat management can begin to wane. Using dog trials, we tested the effects of weather, vegetation characteristics, and covey escape behavior on the success of hunters in finding and flushing pen-reared and wild bobwhite coveys. We found that wild coveys behaved differently that what hunters expected and that pen-reared birds are much easier for dogs to find, regardless of the type of birds the dog had been exposed to previously. This highlights a potential mismatch between hunter expectation and reality, especially in Kentucky where many bobwhite hunters regularly hunt pen-reared quail. This work has been submitted for review to the Proceedings of Quail 8.
Estimating bobcat density in south-central Kentucky
Accurate estimation of wildlife population densities is critical to population management. This is especially true for cryptic species such as bobcats (Lynx rufus). Although bobcats are assumed to be in relatively stable densities across a large portion of the United States, there are currently few reliable density estimates. In collaboration with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, I am attempting to estimate densities of bobcats in south-central Kentucky using spatially explicit mark resight methods.