Plover collage


Below you will find a sample of some of my research projects, many of which are completed and involved a graduate student. For each I have provided a brief overview of the work and for completed projects a summary of key findings. Enjoy!

  • Plover with tag

    This landscape-scale collaborative research project will provide the first assessment of annual cycle movements and population limiting factors of the Mountain Plover, a species that has experienced significant long-term declines. The results of this project will provide land management agencies critical information about where the species population may be limited and identify important areas for conservation throughout the annual cycle. The information will allow conservation planners and land managers to develop effective conservation strategies for the species.

  • Monarch on milkweed

    Iowa’s Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring Program (MSIM) was developed between 2004 and 2006 as a collaborative effort between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Iowa Wildlife Action Plan (IWAP, 2015) lists 405 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, mussels, dragonflies, butterflies, and terrestrial snails as species of greatest conservation need (SGCN). The IWAP states that one of the primary conservation actions is to ‘develop scientifically reliable knowledge on the distribution, abundance, and ecological needs of all wildlife species”.

  • Red Rock Reservoir mudflats

    In 2021 I began a new project at Red Rock Reservoir in central Iowa to assess the bird and vegetation responses to water level management as part of the Sustainable Rivers Program. Several years earlier the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began manipulating water levels in late summer to benefit migrating shorebirds and stimulate vegetation growth that could be reflooded later to benefit migrating waterfowl. Pilot efforts in 2017 and 2020 revealed that the extensive mudflats at this site were used by tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds between July and early September.

  • Dunlin

    This project will obtain the first true estimates of shorebird nest survival using state-of-the-art GPS trackers on Dunlin near Utqiagvik, Alaska. This work is led by Sarah Hoepfner, a M.S. student in my lab who is co-advised by Dr. Richard Lanctot with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. This is important for several reasons. Foremost, we need to know if nest survival rates reported in the past are biased, and if so, whether the bias is consistent or if it varies with other ecological factors.

  • Least Sandpioper

    Multipurpose reservoirs can be used to manage habitat for foraging and loafing for shorebirds during migration. Rachel Vanausdall and I studied Least Sandpiper stopover ecology at Saylorville Reservoir in central Iowa from 2016-2020. We monitored 189 Least Sandpipers in fall 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2020 using radiotelemetry. Our work showed that there were negative effects of water level and body condition on residency probability. We calculated a mean daily local residency probability of 0.78 (95% CI 0.56, 1.00) and used this value to calculate a minimum stopover duration of 3.96 d (95% CI = 3.45, 4.46).

  • Yellow-breasted Chat

    Recent avian population declines emphasize the need to quantify populations of at-risk species, assess bird community diversity, and better understand the habitat characteristics associated with bird population densities and community diversity. In response to bird declines, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has established Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs) and has listed many at-risk bird species as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN).

  • Sora

    The Iowa Shallow Lakes Restoration Project (SLRP), a partnership between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Ducks Unlimited, Inc. began in 2006. The goal of the SLRP is to improve water quality and the vegetation community to increase the establishment of diverse fish, bird, and invertebrate communities. The large-scale restoration efforts on these wetlands through the Iowa prairie potholes had never been evaluated with respect to responses by breeding and migratory birds and vegetation. Rachel Vanausdall, a M.S. student in my lab, set out to assess these responses during 2016 and 2017.

  • Mountain Plovers

    My interest in Mountain Plovers dates back to 1991, when I accepted a job as a field technician for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with Dr. Fritz L. Knopf. That experience sparked an interest that has continued to the present day. In 1991, I traveled throughout the range of the plover, but was particularly interested in those nesting on Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies in north-central Montana. After a brief visit there in 1992, I returned to Montana in 1995 and have worked there annually since that time. I owe a great deal to Fritz and retired BLM biologist John Grensten for their encouragement during the 25+ years I have studied plovers in Montana.

  • Virginia Rail

    In spring 2009 I initiated a 2-year project funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to investigate the distribution and abundance of secretive marsh-birds in Iowa. Tyler Harms, a M.S. student in my lab, surveyed wetlands statewide using call playbacks and is also collecting data on wetland characteristics and associated bird species of interest. The study focused on eight species - Pied-billed Grebe, Least and American bitterns, King and Virginia rails, Sora, Common Moorhen, and American Coot. Our annual research reports are now available for 2009 and 2010.

  • Devils Hole Pupfish

    In 2008 I began working with Dr. Michael Quist at Iowa State University, Michael Bower of the National Park Service, and other biologists to better understand population dynamics in the highly endangered Devils Hole Pupfish. Maria Dzul, a M.S. student I co-advise with Dr. Quist, has been analyzing historical count data to better understand their long-term decline. She has also been trying to understand sources of variation (e.g., time of day or different divers) that influence pupfish counts so that we can refine the monitoring protocol for this species. Eventually, she will develop a population model for the pupfish that should be useful for informing future management decisions for this species.

  • Puerto Rican Bullfinch with Transmitter

    In spring 2009 I began working on a collaborative project with North Carolina State University and the Puerto Rican Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to understand forest bird communities in southwestern Puerto Rico. Amber Wiewel, a M.S. student in my lab, is trying to understand their breeding biology and relate nest survival and movements to availability of fruit. The Puerto Rican Bullfinch is a frugivorous forest songbird endemic to the Puerto Rico archipelago.

  • Long-billed Curlew

    In 2008 I began working on a collaborative project with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to further understand the breeding biology of Long-billed Curlews in Nebraska.  The Long-billed Curlew is a large, prairie-nesting shorebird of the dry grasslands and rangelands of western North America.  Cory Gregory, a M.S. student in my lab, is trying to learn more about curlews by studying several aspects of their breeding biology.  Specifically, his research is conducted at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the panhandle of western Nebraska and focuses on nest and chick survival as well as nesting and brood-rearing habitat associations.

  • Grassland bird

    I am currently working with L. Wes Burger, Jr. and Ross Conover to assess differential benefits of early-succession habitat in the row-crop, agricultural matrix of northwest Mississippi.

  • Least Terns

    During the 2004 and 2005 breeding seasons, I studied the nesting ecology of Black Skimmers and Least Terns in coastal Mississippi. With the assistance of Ali Leggett, Ryan Rupp, and Jenny Thompson, we located and monitored nests of both species at mainland and barrier island colonies to estimate nesting success. This work was supported by two grants from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.