Wildlife conservation 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 face problems that span several spatial and temporal scales.

I’ve been fortunate enough to lead or collaborate on several projects as a graduate student and a wildlife biologist, and you’ll find brief descriptions of those projects below.

Ongoing Projects

Northern Bobwhite response to broad-scale conservation programs

In 2010 the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources 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 bobwhite, but evidence for broad-scale effects at population levels are scarce. One obstacle to estimating broad-scale effects is understanding the “appropriate” spatial scale at which to measure species’ response. We’re using kernel smoothing methods and population models to simultaneously estimate the relationship between distance and utility of a CREP field to bobwhite (the relevant spatial scale), and the direction and magnitude of bobwhite response to CREP density in the surrounding landscape (landscape-scale effects). Our end goal is to guide future landscape management for bobwhite and to provide best practices for the re-enrollment of land into CREP and similar conservation programs.

*This manuscript is currently in review.

Collaborators: John Morgan (KDFWR), Danna Baxley (KDFWR/TNC), James Martin (UGA), and Richard Chandler (UGA)

How can the “scale of effect” help us conserve private lands more efficiently?

When enrolling fields in to private land conservation programs we have a limited amount of resources: limited time, money, acreage, and staff. Where do we target our efforts? Land enrollment a spatial optimization problem, i.e., we need to find an arrangement of fields that maximizes the response of bobwhite. To do this, we need to understand the spatial scale at which bobwhite respond to environmental change (“the scale of effect”). Using empirical modeling estimates (see above), we are building a decision support tool that predicts how each eligible land parcel may contribute to regional bobwhite abundance. We’re building this tool specifically for the Kentucky CREP area, but this framework can be used to inform other similar private land conservation programs, management of public lands, and broad-scale land management planning (e.g., the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s Coordinated Implementation Program).

Collaborators: John Morgan (KDFWR), Danna Baxley (KDFWR/TNC), James Martin (UGA), and Richard Chandler (UGA)

Remote sensing applied to grassland bird conservation

The dynamic nature of agricultural ecosystems modifies resource availability to wildlife over space and time. Remote sensing can help us understand how conservation initiatives like the CREP influence resource density. We are using remote sensing techniques to produce species-specific resource maps for the Kentucky CREP area, which will help us estimate how landscape structure (e.g., landscape composition, functional heterogeneity) modifies the response of grassland birds to private land conservation.

Collaborators: John Morgan (KDFWR), Danna Baxley (KDFWR/TNC), James Martin (UGA), and Richard Chandler (UGA)

Using remote sensing to monitor the status of conservation programs

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 hope to estimate the intensity of mowing across the Kentucky CREP area from 2010-2015. 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.

Collaborators: John Morgan (KDFWR), Danna Baxley (KDFWR/TNC), and James Martin (UGA)

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.

Collaborators: Laura Palmer (KDFWR)

Completed Projects

A focused habitat approach for Northern Bobwhite restoration in Kentucky (In press, Proceedings of the Eighth National Quail Symposium)

Factors influencing Northern Bobwhite hunter success on reclaimed minelands (In press, Proceedings of the Eighth National Quail Symposium)

Revegetating minelands in Eastern Kentucky using wildlife-friendly seed mixes

Managing rank native warm-season grass fields for northern bobwhite

Multi-scale habitat associations of larval stream-breeding salamanders

Conservation genetics of the Gopher Frog

Influence of coal extraction on stream salamanders in Eastern Kentucky