Conservation and Sustainability

Ecosystems and their biodiversity underpin human wellbeing. They provide food and water; regulate floods, drought, and disease; and support soil formation and pollination. They also have intangible value as places of spiritual significance. All these are vital “services,” essential to economies and nation states.

But ecosystems are undergoing acute and accelerating damage. Ecosystem services have been degraded over the last 50 years, with direct, measurable economic repercussions. Our objective is to study and mitigate some of the degradation.

Conservation

The word conservation is generally used to means the conservation of the diversity of plants and animals that live in the world and sometimes includes the concept of conserving the various genetic strains with-in species as well as the actual species themselves. In this lab we are concerned with not only basic conservation practices but also habitat and animal resilience. Understanding resilience becomes very important when we try to identify responses to habitat and climate change.

Habitat

Habitat destruction has driven many once-contiguous animal populations into remnant patches of varying size and isolation. The underlying framework for the conservation of fragmented populations is founded on the principles of island biogeography, wherein the probability of species occurrence in habitat patches varies as a function of patch size and isolation. Despite decades of research, the general importance of patch area and isolation as predictors of species occupancy in fragmented terrestrial systems remains unknown because of a lack of quantitative synthesis

Habitat loss and fragmentation are major threats to terrestrial biodiversity). Globally, ≈40% of land has been converted for agricultural use. Conservation theory and practice are founded on the principle that large habitat patches have more species than small ones and connected patches have more species than isolated ones. Although few would dispute this basic premise, we still do not know the general value of patch area and isolation as predictors of species occupancy in fragmented terrestrial systems. How important is patch isolation relative to patch size in determining where species occur, and how consistent are these effects across diverse taxonomic groups? How does agricultural seasonal changes effect patch distribution. These are foundational, yet unanswered, questions for ecology and conservation biology.

Currently, we are working in several areas of conservation, both on the population scale and the larger environmental scale. Population work has focused on examining the effects of anthropogenic impact on both northern goshawks and red-tailed hawks. We are examining nesting defense behavioral differences in Finnish and North American goshawk populations and studying the impact on genetic diversity of vehicle-related fatalities of red-tailed hawks in Nebraska. We are also working to sequence the DNA in goshawk feathers from nesting sites in Finland to better understand the population dynamics of this species. On the environmental scale, we are examining the predator-prey relationships of raptors along roadways and in agricultural areas to determine how these areas may be either beneficial or detrimental to raptor populations throughout the year, and we are also working on using northern goshawks as climate change indicators in boreal forests worldwide through remote sensing and LiDAR data.