PhD thesis research

PhD publication list

 

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Habitat loss and climate change in West Africa

Hurricanes, islands, and the Miami blue

Recovery of the St. Francis' satyr

 

 

I have been fortunate in the opportunities that presented itself through my PhD thesis under the mentorship of Nick Haddad and my three committee members: Rob Dunn, Dean Urban and Stuart Pimm.

 

 

Habitat loss and climate change in West Africa

 

Funded by a NASA Earth & Space Science Fellowship, I am refining conservation priorities in the Guinean Forests of West Africa. Deemed a Biodiversity Hotspot for its high levels of endemism, this region has already lost over 85% of its forest cover under some of the densest human populations in Africa. The region’s topographic complexity and tropical climate may also render its endemic biodiversity vulnerable to climate change. To understand how climate change and habitat loss interact, I am examining their combined influence on the distributions of forest birds and primates endemic to the Guinean Forests of West Africa. The results I generate will allow me to estimate which endemic bird species will be most threatened by the combined effects of habitat loss and climate change, and which individual forest patches harbor more endemic bird species threatened by these combined effects at present and in future. These results will inform the conservation community of human impacts on the region’s unique biodiversity, and guide science-based policy and management by refining conservation priorities.

 

 

Hurricanes, islands, and the Miami blue

 

The Miami Blue (MBB) is one on the most imperiled butterflies in the world. First described in 1943, the species was once widespread throughout its range in coastal areas of southern Florida. However, the use of insecticides, invasive plants displacing food plants, and habitat loss through urban development reduced the range and populations of the MBB so much that by the 1980s the species was extirpated from mainland Florida, and after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 presumed globally extinct. Since then two new populations have been discovered within Florida’s Lower Keys: one population in 1999 within Bahia Honda State Park (now presumed extinct) and another seemingly healthy population in 2007 on Marquesas Keys. Despite the imperiled status of the MBB, quantitative biological data is very limited for the remaining population. We are also unsure how mosquito control, invasive species, the weather, climate change, and demographic stochasticity influence the remaining population. To ensure the continued persistence of this critically endangered species, there is an urgent need to gain a better understanding of the biology and population status of the MBB. Working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, our aims are to (a) quantify the current distribution and habitat requirements of MBB; (b) conduct a comprehensive population survey; (c) provide estimates for population size, abundance and detectability per island; and (d) provide a meaningful and repeatable protocol for future monitoring at appropriate spatial scales.

 

Recovery of the St. Francis' satyr

 

I am part of a team that, in partnership with the United States Department of Defense (DoD), design and implement recovery plans for the federally endangered St. Francis’s Satyr butterfly. First discovered in 1983, its known global range is restricted to Ft. Bragg located within the Sandhills region of southern North Carolina (USA). Here they live as several subpopulations in a shifting mosaic of semi-permanent, early-successional wetlands typically situated in riparian areas subjected to disturbances such as beaver activity and fire. However, both beaver populations and fire have been suppressed over the last century, drastically reducing the amount of suitable habitat and subsequently also St. Francis’ satyr population sizes. Over the last few decades, both beaver populations and fire have been restored as ecosystem processes on Ft. Bragg, providing opportunities for St. Francis’ satyr population recovery. Yet, despite extensive surveys, few new colonies have been found in recent years. Moreover, while already limited in their distribution, some previously healthy St. Francis’ satyr subpopulations are currently in decline as once-suitable habitat transitions toward late-successional stages. My interest revolves around using species distribution models to find suitable but unoccupied butterfly habitat, and connectivity modeling to prioritize reintroduction areas.

 

 

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