My research focuses on animal behavior and population ecology in the context of wildlife conservation and management. The overarching objective of my research program is to understand the patterns, mechanisms, causes and consequences of animal habitat selection and movement. I am particularly interested in understanding the consequences of these behaviors on animal population dynamics across multiple spatial and temporal scales so that we can effectively conserve biodiversity in ecosystems that are increasingly modified by humans. My studies have examined bird and mammal populations in tropical and temperate forests, wetlands, coastal areas and agricultural ecosystems to address issues of land cover land use change, habitat fragmentation, climate change, renewable energy development and disease spread. While some research is conducted in Illinois, much of it is carried out in Mexico and Cuba. My research program is characterized by a dynamic and integrative mix of basic and applied questions. Studies addressing basic questions are contributing to the development of fundamental principles about the behavioral and ecological mechanisms underlying habitat selection and movement, especially migratory movements, and their impact on population dynamics through reproduction and survival. This knowledge provides a strong theoretical basis for answering applied questions in conservation biology and wildlife management. I am fascinated by aerial migrants – in particular birds and bats – because of the spatio-temporal complexities regulating their populations throughout the annual cycle as they move between breeding and wintering areas.
My research examines the potential impact of Giant Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) on Midwestern songbirds. Many members of this taxa have been affected by changing patterns of human land use, and it is unclear what the response of birds communities may be to the replacement of existing land cover by Giant Miscanthus cultivation. I am utilizing single observer point count surveys to assess avian species richness in Giant Miscanthus relative to other available land cover types, such as corn, soy, hay, and conservation reserve program grasslands. In order to account for the imperfect detectability of birds during these surveys, I also am modeling detection and occupancy probabilities of the most frequently observed bird species and examining relationships between occupancy and local and landscape scale environmental variables, which will allow us to also assess what aspects of the local land cover or landscape structure are most closely associated with observed habitat occupancy patterns. These data will inform current Giant Miscanthus cultivation efforts and potentially lead to alternative cultivation strategies that improve the habitat quality of this biofuel crop type.
I am conducting my master's these on how bats use available habitat, particularly in northern Illinois within the McHenry County Conservation District. The habitat is these protected areas includes agriculture, grasslands, forest, wetlands, and urban spaces. I am using a combination of ist netting and acoustic recordings to draw conclusions on usage of these areas by bats, to look at the connectivity among sites, and to perform species population analysis for the McHenry County Conservation District.
My research investigates the functional role of two stopover sites in the northern Yucatan Peninsula for migratory songbirds during fall migration: El Eden Ecological Reserve and Isla Contoy National Park. I will am using a combination of constant effort mist-netting, radio-telemetry and blood metabolite techniques to understand the quality and function of these sites for satisfying en route requirements of migrating songbirds (e.g., high quality refueling sites vs. low quality emergency resting sites). I am evaluating temporal and spatial patterns in capture rates, physical condition of migrants, feeding behavior, movement patterns during stopover, stopover duration and departure direction to understand the functional differences between these two protected areas. This project will improve full life-cycle conservation models for Neotropical migrants as well as provide information for reserve- and regional-scale conservation and management activities in the Yucatan Peninsula.