Avian Community Response to Anthropogenic Change

Whether introducing exotic organisms or driving global climate change, humans are constantly changing and altering our environment in diverse ways. One of my main interests is examining how these human-caused alterations impact wildlife communities – particularly birds. In the past I have looked at how birds responded to a dramatic forest structure shift as the eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was selectively removed from eastern forests by an invasive insect pest. Current work involves using historic bird surveys to detect changes in communities over the last century in both the Sierra Nevada of California and the southern Appalachians. Since 2011, I have also been working extensively with natural wildfire in western conifer forests, studying the dynamic process by which bird communities change following fire.

Niche Dynamics Through Space and Time

The concept of the ecological niche is fundamental to most mechanistic understandings of why species live where they do. With the recent availability of highly detailed environmental and climatic data that covers large expanses of space and time, we now have unprecedented abilities to define what the ecological niche is for many species. With particular focus on understanding how climate change influences species through the climatic niche, I am interested in how we can measure and define the environmental niche for species, and how the niche changes over time – particularly over short time periods (decades, centuries) where the niche is generally assumed to be static.

Historical Data, Novel Opportunities

Many of the most compelling questions in both ecology and conservation currently concern long-term processes that take decades or centuries to occur. While monitoring can encompass such time-scales, we have too few long-term monitoring programs and too many questions. Historical data (i.e., data collected for a time-specific purpose; non-continuous), however, can inform long-term processes yet have been largely ignored due to perceptions of insurmountable bias in comparisons between old data and new. I specialize in using novel analytical methods to unlock the potential of historical data and thereby explore entirely new avenues of research.

Wildlife Survey Methodology & Occupancy Modeling

Much of our data on wildlife populations and communities is dependent on our ability to accurately survey creatures. I am interested in the development and testing of this methodology – moving toward the better estimation of observer error. On the other side – accepting that our detections will never be perfect – I am interested in how we can use inherently imperfect survey data to model the occupancy or abundance of species, given that they may remain undetected. The statistical field of detection-corrected models has grown considerably since in recent years, and I am excited to develop and test new models while also exploring novel applications of established modeling methods.