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Current Graduate Students
Eric Clark (PhD, Since 2014)

Snowshoe Hare Fitness and Habitat Relationships in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan

In 2014, the Inland Fish and Wildlife Department conducted a vulnerability assessment for snowshoe hare in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This vulnerability assessment, which used a well-established framework and a panel of wildlife experts, identified a variety of traits which made snowshoe hare vulnerable to climate change. The assessment also highlighted a variety of uncertainties with regard to our understanding of the functional relationships of population performance measures, climate, and habitat measures. This project seeks to add to the body of knowledge on integrating species climate change vulnerability assessments into adaptive habitat management frameworks by 1) developing a correlative model to describes interaction between climate, habitat, and snowshoe hare occupancy at coarse spatial scales and 2) develop methodological approaches empirically test functional relationships between snowshoe hare population performance measures, climate, and habitat characteristics. 

Sean Sultaire (PhD, Since 2015)

Retained Structures and Wildlife in Managed Forests of the Pacific Northwest

Millions of acres of forest in the Pacific Northwest are intensively managed for timber production. Although this management regime reduces the land footprint of wood production it also results in simplified forest structure compared to unmanaged forests that lack important habitat elements for wildlife such as downed logs and large diameter trees. Leaving behind a small number of trees at harvest, known as green tree retention, has the potential to increase complexity of production forests, and is required by Forest Practice Rules in Washington and Oregon. However, questions remain as to the how the location of retained green trees influences their value to wildlife populations. In collaboration with timber companies and natural resource agencies, my dissertation employs an experimental approach to understand how different patterns of green tree retention influence wildlife, with a focus on small mammals and ground beetles. These species groups are are important to forest ecosystems and are sensitive to changes in forest structure. In addition to how the diversity and abundance of these species changes by green tree retention pattern, my dissertation will further quantify how functional diversity of these species is impacted by retention pattern, and how retention pattern interacts with the larger landscape to drive species composition in recently harvested stands. My findings will help guide green tree retention practices in the Pacific Northwest to maximize its value to forest biodiversity in the region and balance economic development.

Melissa Starking (PhD, Since 2016)

Wildlife Responses to Innovative Silvicultural Approaches in Northern Hardwood Forests of Michigan

The goal of my research is to evaluate wildlife responses to alternative silvicultural approaches in northern hardwood forests of Michigan. I will be working closely with MSU's Department of Forestry and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).  We will implement silvicultural techniques typically not used for hardwood management in the Great Lakes Region, including seed tree and shelterwood cutting. My project has two objectives: 1) Quantify how deer respond to physical barriers to herbivory in silvicultural treatments, and 2) Determine how silvicultural treatments affect other priority wildlife species across the larger forest landscape. To quantify deer use of northern hardwood forests, I will monitor pre- and post-treatment use of 141 managed stands (and adjacent areas) by deer starting in 2016 (pre-treatment), and annually through 2019 (post-treatment) using remote cameras. To quantify silvicultural effects on other desirable wildlife species, we will identify species of interest in each region in consultation with MDNR Unit Biologists (3-5 species that can efficiently be monitored). Once species are identified, we will assess our ability to sample for these species within the project constraints. Sampling will start in 2016 (pre-treatment), and annually through 2019 (post-treatment) using varied techniques.


Tracy Melvin (PhD, Since 2017)

Stewarding Ecosystems Undergoing Rapid Climate Change for the Conservation of Biodiversity

Impacts of a warming climate on the 6 million-acre Kenai Peninsula are already dramatic and forecasted to worsen. The southern peninsula was the center of a spruce bark beetle outbreak that culled 1 million acres of spruce forest over a 15-year-period resulting in the emergence of plant and animal communities that have never been observed. These new plant communities are forming when warmer temperatures favorably influence spruce beetle populations and increase drought stress in spruce trees, increasing tree mortality and the formation of grasslands. In response, fire impacts have increased in extent and intensity. My project will evaluate techniques that will help resource managers and subsistence users address these ecosystem changes due to climate change on the Kenai Peninsula.

Tracy also received her Masters degree while working in AFWEL. The topic of her thesis was prescribed fire effects on eastern box turtles in southern Michigan.

Andrew Dennhardt (PhD, Since 2017)

Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Wild Populations in Human-dominated Landscapes and Aquascapes: Multiple Scales and Modes for Inference

As a quantitative population and community ecologist, I am primarily interested in species distributions, individual animal movements, group demography, and environmental factors, as well as how each shapes fisheries and wildlife population and community dynamics in space and time. Employing novel tools in quantitative ecology, I investigate the abundance and distribution of species along with the organization and maintenance of their communities. My dissertation research includes broad-scale work with multivariate spatiotemporal data on: (1) fish communities in the Great Lakes, (2) birds and groundcover plant communities in managed forests and farm lands in the Midwestern U.S., and (3) bird communities, species' distributions, and population dynamics in North America. The ultimate goal of my dissertation is to promote and showcase novel statistical tools useful for work involving multiple data scales and modes of inference in fisheries and wildlife research and conservation today.

Eric Raifsnider (MS, Since 2018)

Ruffed Grouse Nest Site Selection and Brood Recruitment in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan

The Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians identified a need for information on ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) population productivity and recruitment, with a specific focus on how grouse populations might respond to changes in forest composition that are projected for the Great Lakes Region. My research will seek to quantify grouse nest site selection, adult female survival, brood habitat use, and brood recruitment across a gradient of habitat qualities in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We will use pointing dogs to find nests and live trapping and radio telemetry of adults and chicks to quantify survival and habitat use.


Aimee Baier (MS, Since 2018)

Dynamics of Resource Selection and Seasonal Influences on Occupancy by Snowshoe Hares (Lepus americanus) in Northern Michigan

In cooperation with the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, I will be studying large scale factors affecting snowshoe hare relatedness, with a particular focus on habitat isolation in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. I will use a combination of genotyping from fecal pellets to look for patterns in relatedness for habitat patches at multiple scales. Furthermore, I will examine fine-scale patterns in seasonal snowshoe hare habitat use in the eastern Upper Peninsula using GPS radio telemetry.


Aimee Baier (MS, Since 2018)
Trish Brockman (MS, Since 2020)
Aimee Baier (MS, Since 2018)

Forest management effects on species of conservation concern: Wood turtles and golden-winged warblers.ichigan

Prior to federal designation as threatened or endangered, species proposed for listing (i.e., candidate species) undergo a status review that involves summation of extant information that aids the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in making a determination. Basic information on candidate species is sometimes lacking, but the USFWS is still legally obligated to protect species, oftentimes making precautionary decisions in the absence of information. In some instances, basic knowledge on candidate species can greatly inform the listing process and decision, ultimately guiding the determination of permissible land management activities in areas where the species occurs. The USFWS and private forest landowners recognize the value of proactively collecting these data, particularly for species presumably protected under existing best management or sustainable forestry practices. Working with the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement Foundation, National Alliance of Forest Owners member organizations, and the USFWS, we propose to evaluate wood turtle and golden-winged warbler (and other forest birds) occupancy and habitat relationships in managed forests of the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


Jillian Sterman (MS, Since 2020)

Eastern massasaugas (Sistrurus catenatus) in road right-of-ways in Michigan: Vulnerability and effectiveness of best management practices

In 2017, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) developed a statewide Programmatic Agreement (Programmatic) on conservation and management of massasauga rattlesnakes in relation to road construction and maintenance projects. Roads are widely perceived as barriers to snake movements and dispersal, though few studies have directly quantified this effect.  Additionally, information on effects of maintenance activities like mowing, herbicides, and water management projects (e.g., culvert installation and replacement) on massasauga mortality, movements, and individual fitness is lacking. Research and monitoring that addresses these unknowns will help ensure that conservation measures in the Programmatic are avoiding regulatory take of massasaugas. My research will help to refine a survey protocol for massasaugas, quantify the spatial and temporal patterns of massasauga habitat use in and around MDOT right-of-ways, quantify massasauga behaviors and movements during right-of-way maintenance activities, and given project results, evaluate the conservation contributions of the Programmatic to massasauga recovery.

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