Research Interests and Activities



Overview:

My major research activities have generally fallen within the domains of population, community and landscape ecology. Though much of my research has focused on addressing "basic" ecological questions, I have generally tailored my research programs towards issues which hold promise in contributing to conservation. I also have related interests in biogeography, evolution, and experimental design.

While I feel that research provides important inherent benefits, I also see enormous opportunity in research activities as arenas for education. I've spent a great deal of time working with students (undergraduates, graduates and high school students) and the experience has only solidified my sense that exposure to research activities can and should be more consistently integrated into the public's experience and impressions of science.


Specific Research Interests:

I have always been interested in factors that influence the abundance, demography, and persistence of local populations. My initial research interests centered on the role that interspecific competition might play in structuring vertebrate communities. Throughout the course of my M.S. research, I conducted a series of field experiments designed to test general theories about competition using two species of woodland rodents. As I started my Ph.D. work, I found my interests shifting towards exploring the very primary role that habitat might play as an influence on population performance.  I was particularly intrigued by suggestions that landscape-scale habitat attributes such as the size, shape, or relative isolation of habitat "patches" might prove to be important influences on the distribution, demography and persistence of populations. Furthermore, simulations I conducted in collaboration with Michael A. Bowers indicated that the nature and magnitude of competition, predation, and other important ecological relationships might also be affected by landscape characteristics. One major shortcoming in all these ideas was that there had been very little field work conducted to test most of the theoretical predictions. Between 1989 and 1998 I focused much of my research activities on field tests of these kinds of landscape predictions, focusing particularly on demographic and movement responses of small mammals living in experimental landscapes. Typically, I used mowing to isolate patches, fragments and, most recently, whole landscapes and then used capture/recapture techniques to test demographic predictions.


Current Activities:

Most my current activities are primarily focused on establishing a new research program in conjunction with the Conservation Science Program here at Muskingum.  Muskingum's collaborative relationship with the Wilds affords Muskingum faculty with a wide range of relatively unique research opportunities.   At present, I (along with several other Muskingum faculty including: Danny J. Ingold - Biology, Lois Zook-Gerdau - Chemistry/Environmental Sciences, William T. Kerrigan - History, and Stephen R. Van Horn - Geology) am particularly interested in pursuing questions related to the impacts of coal mining over the last half of the 20th century on both the biotic and physical environments.  At present, we are undertaking or planning investigations into the impacts on soil and land form structure, primary production,  plant community composition and structure, and consumer ecology (particularly as represented by small mammal and grassland bird community structure, population demography, and population dynamics).  To a more limited extent we are also looking at impacts on higher trophic levels (predators) through observational studies.  In addition, one of us (WTK) is working to understand the human impacts of this drastic habitat disturbance.    For my part, I am studying grassland plants and small mammals that occur across a series of plots reflecting a temporal gradient of strip mining events (most mining occurred between 1972 and 1985).  I am particularly interested in assessing the extent to which time since disturbance might be impacting plant community composition and structure as well as small mammal population demography and dynamics.   In the near future, I would also like to assess the ecological fates of consumers that are now coming into a newly established zone of native grassland restoration.

The investigation of broad-scale impacts resulting from severe habitat alteration is not only a  timely research issue but it also provides a rich array of opportunities for student research projects.  At present we are working to develop a number of research options for students with particular emphasis on getting students into research activities in their first couple of years in college.   

In addition, to the above I continue to work with with Michael A. Bowers of the University of Virginia on our experimental landscape system  which was designed to explicitly test for recruitment, survival and movement responses by small mammals to habitat fragmentation and altered patterns of resource distribution.  We monitored demographic responses of small mammals at this site to three distinct landscape forms that we created between 1989 and 2000 and are still engaged in data analysis and writing.  At this juncture, one of the main issues we are exploring is the extent to which "purely populational" models can explain demographic changes in altered habitats vs. the notion that a more fundamental, "bottom up" orientation which may require a great deal more emphasis on individual-based responses (e.g., behavior) may be needed.




 

Last Modified: 31 August 2005