Decision Science
Methods Development
Wetland Management
Unpaid Labor in STEM

I am a scientist who reaches across the boundary of quantitative and field ecology to answer robust and innovative scientific questions and provide valuable data to support on the ground conservation. Currently I am working as apart of the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network using structured decision making to support decision making behind bird conservation priorities.

Secretive marsh birds provide a great system to ask a variety of natural history, basic science and applied questions as well as an opportunity to bridge the gap between consumptive and non consumptive wildlife enthusiasts and unite them behind wetland conservation and management actions, especially in the face of climate change. My research has frequently employed large scale collaboratively generated data sets, either from field projects, or museums, which allow us to ask more robust questions about a species then I could answer on my own.

Part of all my research is connecting what I do back to the public. I believe that the only way we can maintain our natural resources and have them in the future is to connect the public to them, and show them how valuable they are while also collecting data so we can make science based conservation decisions.

In addition, we need a diverse workforce studying and managing that environment (and I mean more then just gender diversity). I work towards raising the field of ecology’s awareness of the detrimental impact of things like unpaid internships (Fournier and Bond 2015) and unfair hiring practices which discriminate against many who want to enter science.

Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network

My postdoc work, with the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network seeks to set priorities for bird monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico by using a Structured Decision Making framework.

We are doing this in two ways, first through the construction of a decision support tool that a funding decision maker can use to compare proposals by quantitatively scoring them based on the values of the bird conservation community, and then optimize given their own constraints (USGS Open File Report and paper In Prep)

Second, we are using these values, explicitly defined, to set avian monitoring priorities across seven taxonomic groups of birds for the next 5 years. We are setting priorities for Status and Trends, Management Actions and Ecological Processes. This plan will be available in late 2018, and will be updated every 5 years. A case study of this process is in preparation.

Effects of Wetland Management Strategies on Habitat Use of Fall Migrating Rails in Intensively Managed Wetland Complexes in Missouri

(Funded by US Fish and Wildlife Service and Missouri Department of Conservation)

My doctoral research is looking at the effects of wetland management on migratory rails during their fall migration. I’m working on state and federal wetlands across the state of Missouri. We do nocturnal spotlight surveys on ATVs to try to observe the use of these wetlands by our five study species (Sora, Virginia Rail, Yellow Rail, King Rail and Black Rail).

Method Development

Often when study cryptic species new methodologies are required. This started with developing a morphometric model for the sexing of Virginia Rails, since they are unable to be distinguished in the hand.

Since there was no way to survey for rails during autumn migration we designed, field tested and validated a method that allows for estimate of rail densities.

Wetland Management Tradeoffs

Starting in 2014 we established a three year crossover experiment comparing two water level manipulation treatments. Early flooding of moist soil wetlands (flooding beginning August 1) and Late flooding (flooding beginning September 15). We are going to examine if there is any difference in response by both rails and waterfowl to these treatments. Rails are surveyed during the fall (August - October) and waterfowl during the waterfowl hunting season (October - February). Waterfowl response will be examined by looking at both use (via weekly ground counts) and hunter harvest.

Rail Natural History and Management

To better understand and appreciate a species within its larger ecosystem we must know its natural history. One of the joys of working with species which are poorly studied is being able to work on natural history questions, such as when do these species migrate, how do they move through their environment, and what time of year do they migrate. These are the foundation on which larger scientific and conservation focused questions can then be built.

Avian Migration

Understanding the timing and connectivity of seasonal movements of individuals between habitats is essential for the effective conservation and management of migratory species. Documenting migratory connectivity is especially difficult for secretive species like rails. Rails are among the least studied birds in North America. I propose using stable isotopes, and species distribution models based on eBird data to predict the migratory connectivity of rails. Sora and Virginia are game species in North America who we hunt despite our lack of information about their population levels, trends and connectivity. Both species, along with the non-game Yellow Rail are thought to be declining, but the cause is unknown.

To date my work on migratory connectivity has shown differing patterns in connectivity among species.

Starting with the Virginia Rail, in collaboration with several partners we showed that some individuals who winter on the Gulf Coast, or migrate through Ohio have unexpected migratory patterns.

I followed this up with collaborators from Bird Studies Canada, where we looked at Virginia, Yellow Rail and Sora in central Canada and across the Central Flyway in the US during autumn migration. Here we again found some unexpected patterns in Virginia Rail migration, as well as differences among the three species in their connectivity between the breeding grounds and stopover areas during autumn migration.

Current work seeks to further examine questions about Virginia Rail migration by using pin point GPS units, results hopefully coming soon.

Unpaid Labor in STEM

Many advertised field-technician positions sound worthwhile, but have no or very low pay. Although these can be valuable experiences, not paying technicians for their work undermines their professionalism and the professionalism of science as a whole. These unpaid technician positions are available to only the privileged few; and the positions exclude minorities, parents, and other groups who cannot afford to work unpaid. By creating such positions, we prevent everyone, regardless of background, from having a chance to get the field experience they need, and this limits the diversity of voices in wildlife ecology and conservation. We recognize finances are often tight, and there is a long tradition of unpaid work, but these are not valid rationalizations for continuing this practice.

To further examine these ideas I am working with Dr. Alex Bond and two economists in the United Kingdom to examine our assumptions about unpaid work in the sciences, including who takes unpaid work, and how it influences their career. We hope to provide the evidence for further discussion of the role of unpaid work in science and any influence it might have on reinforcing other structure of privilege and exclusion which also exist along a career path into the sciences.