Fostering curiosity, passion, and focus to understand nature's wild things
My lifelong vocation
Wildlife ecology, conservation, and management comprise my ultimate passions. In my early career, I worked on a variety of projects that primarily focused on raptor ecology and conservation; whereas, today, my research foci involve projects with both aquatic and terrestrial taxa of different ecological communities. I also spent a period of time working with soils' data to help advance understanding of national stocks of soil organic carbon. The kinds of scientific questions I pursue focus on species population dynamics, species distributions, and the organizational characteristics of multi-species communities. Below, I have pursued each of the following endeavors with great purpose and determination with the ultimate intention to foster a productive career in quantitative ecology and species recovery, management, and conservation as part of the U.S. federal government. With all of my broad skills and interests in tow, I seek to earn appointment as a research biologist for one of the natural resource agencies in the U.S. Department of Interior. As of this writing, during July 2021, that dream is becoming realized through forthcoming employment with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in California, USA. In dedicated service to the American people and its fisheries and wildlife resources, I eagerly look forward to the road ahead.
Consulting numerous clients for the Center for Statistical Training and Consulting at Michigan State University
Secondary work during my Ph.D. program
In addition to my Ph.D. research as a graduate student at Michigan State University, from May 2016 to September 2020, I served as a statistical consultant for a total of 4,296 hours across 126 clients from >10 different colleges with the Center for Statistical Training and Consulting (CSTAT). In this role, I primarily or secondarily (i.e., alongside a senior statistician) tutored 8-15 undergraduate and graduate student, post-doctoral, research staff, and/or faculty clients every week on how to: (1) identify the most appropriate statistical tools for their data, (2) apply various statistical analyses to their data, (3) write up statistical findings in their reports, journal manuscripts, or theses/dissertations, and/or (4) help clients design surveys/proposals for their research projects. Additionally, I attended weekly staff meetings, wherein student consultants and senior statisticians discussed strategies and analyses for specific client cases. As a student consultant, I worked with clients from MSU’s Departments of Accounting and Information Systems, Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Engineering, Entomology, Fisheries and Wildlife, Food Science and Human Nutrition, Geography, Integrative Biology, Kinesiology, Plant Biology, Political Science, and many more. Throughout my consulting work, I discussed, recommended, and/or worked with statistical tools with clients, including: a priori (e.g., customized) power analyses, t-tests, Chi-square tests of independence, one-, two-, and three-way Analyses of Variance or Covariance, General and Generalized Linear Models (including spatiotemporal models), hierarchical/mixed-effect/multi-level models (using Frequentist or Bayesian inference), Trend Surface Analysis, and various multivariate tools such as Principal Component Analyses and Permutational Multivariate Analysis of Variance, and much more. Finally, I hosted topical workshops, assisted the unit with designing a new logo, and recruited new clients and future consultants in my everyday conversations with fellow professionals regarding their data analyses on campus. Software I used and gained new experience with included ArcGIS, PASS, R, RStudio, SAS, and SPSS (e.g., multiple versions), among others. I completed this consulting work at Michigan State University under the primary co-direction of the late Dr. Brian Maurer (1954-2018), Dr. Steven Pierce, and Dr. Marianne Huebner.
Drafting a management plan for monitoring and recovering least Bell's vireos throughout southern California
Internship experience during my Ph.D. program
As part of my Directorate Resource Assistants Fellowship (DFP), an internship program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I developed a draft management plan for federally-endangered least Bell’s vireos inhabiting the Santa Clara River watershed in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, California. I also designed proposal for a rangewide sampling scheme for the species in California, based on Generalized Random Tessellation Stratified Sampling. My draft management plan helped garner many thousands of dollars in funding for implementing a pilot survey of the Santa Clara River starting in 2021. Such funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Interior Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2020. During my DFP internship in summer 2019, I participated in three scientific outreach events on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including an environmental education festival at Two Rivers Park, an environmental education tour of the San Buenaventura State Beach for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Ventura County, and an environmental education tour of the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge located in Fillmore, Ventura, and Maricopa, CA, respectively. Additionally, I helped process and evaluate wild California condors for overall health and body condition at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Maricopa, CA. I also joined a site visit with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology staff to evaluate the site’s potential for inclusion in a regional conservation mitigation bank for qualified permittees near Saticoy, CA. Furthermore, I interviewed multiple Ventura Fish and Wildlife Service staff across multiple divisions to garner a better understanding of the work that they do as well as any potential opportunities for future work or collaboration. Finally, I also delivered three oral presentations to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, including presentations on statistical analyses and survey designs, sampling schemes for rare spatially-clustered species, and hierarchical estimation of least Bell’s vireo population abundance at local, regional, and rangewide scales. I completed this project at the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the primary co-direction of Lara Drizd, Jenny Marek, and Eric Morrissette.
Applying key concepts of macroecology and island biogeography theory toward enhanced ecological restoration efforts
Chapter 1 of my Ph.D. dissertation
At Michigan State University, as part of my Ph.D. research, I reviewed how historic foundations of macroecology and the theory of island biogeography inform ecology, restoration, and conservation across in the 21st Century. I presented information on theoretical and disciplinary foundations toward understanding ecological systems on broad scales as well as described recent advances in the field of macroecology for potentially improving ecological restoration efforts worldwide. I concluded that restoration efforts should focus on evaluating and understanding the historical and recent ecological context of areas targeted for restoration, particularly on multiple spatiotemporal scales. I completed this project at Michigan State University under the primary direction of the late Dr. Brian Maurer (1954-2018).
Evaluating dynamics of Lake Huron fish communities and species responses to covariates using Dynamic Factor Analysis
Chapter 2 of my Ph.D. dissertation
At Michigan State University, as part of my Ph.D. research, I investigated historic dynamics of freshwater fish populations and communities inhabiting Ontario, CAN jurisdictional waters of Lake Huron. I applied a multivariate hierarchical model to relative counts of multiple fish species to estimate fine- and broad-scale effects of environmental and anthropogenic factors associated with species dynamics over time. I concluded that conservation efforts should focus on ecosystem-level governance of Lake Huron fisheries, including expanded ectoparasite control and harvest regulations as well as enhanced structural-climatic conditions to maintain stationary water temperatures and nutrient cycling over time. I completed this project at Michigan State University under the primary co-direction of the late Dr. Brian Maurer (1954-2018), Dr. Travis Brenden, and Dr. James Bence as well as the secondary direction of Drs. Kendra Cheruvelil, Gary Roloff, Phoebe Zarnetske, and Elise Zipkin.
Describing grassland-obligate bird occupancy patterns at set-aside lands in southeast Michigan
Chapter 3 of my Ph.D. dissertation
At Michigan State University, as part of my Ph.D. research, I evaluated historic dynamics of grassland bird populations and communities inhabiting Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) lands in southeastern Michigan, USA. I applied a multivariate hierarchical model to relative detections and non-detections of multiple species to estimate fine- and broad-scale effects of environmental and anthropogenic factors associated with species occupancy dynamics over time. I concluded that conservation efforts should focus on increasing the area, frequency, diversity, and distribution of CREP planting practices as well as implement new studies over numerous locations and for extended time periods throughout the Upper Midwest and Great Plains of North America to help ensure the persistence of remnant grasslands and their rarest bird species. I completed this project at Michigan State University under the primary co-direction of the late Dr. Brian Maurer (1954-2018) and Dr. Gary Roloff as well as the secondary direction of Drs. Kendra Cheruvelil, Phoebe Zarnetske, and Elise Zipkin.
Integrating allometric-scaling with traditional ecological covariates to estimate abundance of bird species across North America
Chapter 4 of my Ph.D. dissertation
At Michigan State University, as part of my Ph.D. research, I assessed how mass-scaling (allometric) relationships can be used to estimate the abundance of wild bird populations across continental North America. I applied a univariate hierarchical model to relative counts of a common forest bird to estimate fine- and broad-scale mass effects of environmental and anthropogenic factors associated with species dynamics over time. I concluded that conservation should focus on expanding the spatiotemporal coverage of banding sites for measuring species body-size characteristics as well as require multiple (geolocated) site visits (e.g., 3 times per season) in broad-scale monitoring programs, particularly such that allometric-scaling relationships may be better evaluated with hierarchical models investigating indices of species abundance and occupancy status. I completed this project at Michigan State University under the primary co-direction of the late Dr. Brian Maurer (1954-2018) and Dr. Gary Roloff as well as the secondary direction of Drs. Kendra Cheruvelil, Phoebe Zarnetske, and Elise Zipkin.
Quantifying bird and plant community responses to silvicultural treatments on private forest lands in northern Michigan
Side project during my Ph.D. program
During 2016-2017, I consulted on and served as a co-principal investigator with Dr. Gary Roloff on a project granted by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). We applied multivariate abundance (i.e., negative binomial) and ordination (i.e., principal coordinates and non-metric multidimensional scaling) models using repeated measures on forest composition, vegetation structure, and bird species counts for use in managing biodiversity near Luce County, Michigan, USA. In this project, I gained experience with composing, revising, and delivering two technical reports, which described the methods and results, for this project. On behalf of TNC, our work found that, for both birds and plants, there were no consistent patterns in the diversity metrics we considered, especially regarding potential effects of silvicultural treatments on observed bird species. That said, however, some sub-treatments (e.g., different tree-harvest procedures) significantly affected abundance of a few bird species. All harvested (i.e., treated) plots had significantly fewer birds than the reference site we considered at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Our restoration index for birds indicated that (a) sites with a combination of varying harvest-gap sizes and restoration thinning procedures, and (b) sites with a combination of restoration and traditional thinning procedures, suggested trajectories in bird diversity that most resembled patterns in bird occupancy and abundance at the reference site. We observed similar patterns in our groundcover restoration index, and the aforementioned combination of harvest treatments also resulted in plant communities that closely mimicked communities at the reference site. While we observed some treatment effects on bird and plant communities, our results indicated that untreated sites were also dynamic over time, suggesting that broad-scale factors affected the occurrence and abundance of different bird and plant species. In conclusion, we recommended improvements to the existing survey design and tree-harvest practices to help TNC enhance bird and plant biodiversity at harvested sites over time. I completed this project at Michigan State University under the primary direction of Dr. Gary Roloff, alongside helpful consultations with Dr. Doug Pearsall at TNC.
Assessing whether the statistical thermodynamics of photosynthesis predicts order of size distributions with changes in primary production
Side project during my Ph.D. program
Recent advances in the statistical physics of self replicating systems indicate that order can increase in such systems when the amount of energy processed by the system during replication is sufficient to overcome the degree of irreversibility of the movement of components of the system between non-ordered and ordered states. For a plant community, work is performed by energy captured by photosynthesis. England’s (2013; Journal of Chemical Physics 139: 121923) statement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics predicts that as the photosynthetic capacity of plant communities increases, the degree of organization of the size distribution of the plant community should increase. Our laboratory evaluated this prediction with the Gentry (forest transect) dataset and found it to be confirmed. We further examined the hypothesis that increases in organization of biomass distributions with increasing capacity are consistent with neutral models of community structure. We found that for the Gentry dataset, evidence indicated that the decrease in entropy with increasing biomass was not consistent with random allocation among ecologically equivalent species. My contribution to this project was to assess this random allocation hypothesis via permutation tests on species biomass within the sampled communities. I completed this project at Michigan State University under the primary direction of the late Dr. Brian Maurer (1954-2018).
Evaluating rodent population responses to silvicultural treatments on industrialized forest lands in northern California
Side project during my Ph.D. program
Understanding species responses to common silvicultural practices is important for management of commercial forests. Perhaps no other area in North America is as significant to industrial forest production as is the Pacific Northwest. In addition to its economic value, this area also holds great ecological value, especially in terms of local biodiversity and ecosystem function and services. For federally-threatened species like the northern spotted owl, rodents are important primary food resources. Therefore, quantifying densities of rodent communities in response to commercial forest practices is essential for a basic understanding of human impacts on local food webs. For this project, I provided guidance on written descriptions and defenses of applied statistics on the project to help strengthen the final manuscript in response to previous criticism from peer-reviewers. I completed this project at Michigan State University under the primary co-direction of Drs. Steven Gray and Gary Roloff.
Applying Granger-Ramanathan ensemble models to improve predictions of soil organic Carbon stocks in the United States
Summer project following my M.S. program
Integrating modeled outcomes of ecological resources into more accurate and precise predictions thereof is useful for their future conservation and management. One resource that is important to the ecology of soils, and the organisms that depend on them, is stocks of organic Carbon. In the soil sciences, multiple methods exist for evaluating these stocks; however, few estimates of soil organic Carbon are integrated across different modeled outcomes. In 2014, soil scientists in Australia assessed different ensemble modeling approaches for predictive soil mapping, including Granger-Ramanathan model averaging (GRA), and applied those ensemble models to digital property maps of soil pH. After comparing the accuracies of the different approaches, researchers found that GRA achieved greater, if not better, predictive performance than complex ensemble modeling approaches (e.g., Bayesian model averaging), which are computationally challenging and sometimes inefficient to implement. For this project, I worked with members of the Geospatial Research Unit and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service affiliated with the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University. I analyzed a subset of two data sources (i.e., STATSGO2 and SSURGO products) in order to synthesize estimates of soil organic Carbon using GRA. The STATSGO2 and SSURGO databases exemplify two large archives of soil records modeled over nationwide (spatial) and multi-annual (temporal) scales. After fitting GRA models, I produced a computer program and tutorial for the methodology and also composed a guide for new users to implement GRA in a step-by-step procedure. I completed this project under the primary direction of Dr. Jim Thompson as well as the secondary direction of Drs. Sharon Waltman and Travis Nauman at West Virginia University.
Simulating broad-scale movements of raptors across an important migration area in eastern North America
Chapter 1 of my M.S. thesis
As part of my Master's research at West Virginia University, I used information on raptor migration behavior, satellite-tracked individuals, historic weather, regional elevation, and hawk-count locations to develop a model for simulating migratory routes of golden eagles during autumn in eastern North America. Resulting from many simulations, I generated information on the availability of golden eagles to be counted by observers at active hawk-count sites throughout Pennsylvania, USA. Model results also identified new "hot spots" for golden eagle migration in the state, highlighting potential locations for future conservation during periods of autumn migration for raptors. I completed this project at West Virginia University under the primary direction of Dr. Todd Katzner as well as the secondary direction of Drs. Adam Duerr, David Brandes, and George Merovich, Jr.
Integrating citizen-science data with movement models to estimate raptor populations
Chapter 2 of my M.S. thesis
Estimating population size is fundamental to conservation and management. Population size is typically estimated using survey data, computer models, or both. Some of the most extensive and often least expensive survey data are those collected by citizen-scientists. A challenge to citizen-scientists is that the vagility of many organisms can complicate data collection. As a result, animal-movement effects on data collection can adversely affect modeling of those data. Thus, it would be helpful to develop methods that integrate citizen-science datasets with models that account for animal movement. As part of my Master's research at West Virginia University, I used hawk-count data collected by citizen-scientists to estimate the number of golden eagles migrating through Pennsylvania, USA. To do this, I designed a computer model to simulate migratory flights of eagles to estimate what proportion of the population is available (i.e., within visible range or close enough) to be counted at migration monitoring sites in Pennsylvania. I then conducted a multi-state mark-recapture analysis to estimate detection probability (i.e., the rate at which birds within visible range are actually observed) of migrating eagles. Finally, I used availability rates and detection probabilities to adjust raw hawk-count data to produce estimates of population size. My models suggest that 24% (± 14; mean ± SE) of migrating golden eagles are available to be counted at hawk-count sites, and that 55% (± 1.6) of the available eagles are detected by hawk-count observers in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, I estimate that 5,122 (± 1,338) golden eagles migrate annually through the commonwealth. This analysis provides the first quantitative estimate of the size of the eastern golden eagle population, and with it, I demonstrate the utility of one approach to use (widely available) citizen-science data to address a pressing conservation goal—that of population size estimation. I completed this project at West Virginia University under the primary direction of Dr. Todd Katzner as well as the secondary direction of Drs. Adam Duerr, David Brandes, and George Merovich, Jr.
Describing effective dispersal patterns in peregrine falcons across the Midwestern United States
Inaugural research project and my B.S. honors thesis
Dispersal is a significant life-history trait of vagile species that affects the distribution and genetic structure of populations. Natal dispersal in birds is the movement of an individual from its hatch site to a new location where its first reproductive effort occurs. In my undergraduate research, I assessed the influence of sex, hack-status (i.e., hacked or wild-fledged), and hatch site (i.e., cliff or human-made) on natal dispersal distance, and I also evaluated directional trends of dispersal in the Midwestern peregrine falcon subpopulation. I found that mean dispersal distance of female peregrines was >2 times farther than that of males. Dispersal distance did not differ between hacked females and wild-fledged females; however, hacked males dispersed significantly farther than wild-fledged males. Dispersal distance among urban-hatched females and cliff-hatched females did not differ, nor did dispersal distance of urban-hatched males and cliff-hatched males, probably because the sample size for cliff-hatched birds was so small and underrepresented in the dataset. As a whole, the direction of dispersal in Midwestern peregrines was nonuniformly distributed and skewed to the northwest and southeast cardinal directions. This research may, in fact, benefit future studies of peregrine demographics and population viability analyses by providing wildlife managers with information about the patterns and natal movements of peregrine falcons in the Midwestern United States, toward their regional recovery. I completed this project at Southern Illinois University under the primary direction of Sarah Wakamiya as well as the secondary direction of Dr. Eric Hellgren.