I'm interested in how animals and ecosystems respond to human impact. In particular, I am fascinated by amphibians and how they persist in human-altered landscapes. I'm currently a MS student in the Miller lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My MS research is focused on the composition of amphibian communities in farm ponds in the agricultural landscape of south-central Iowa. As an undergraduate, I tested a rapid assessment protocol for amphibians of vernal pools in Pennsylvania.
Amphibians in Agricultural Ponds of Southern Iowa
Farm ponds are a common feature of agricultural landscapes across the globe and are particularly abundant in the central United States. In the US, most of these ponds were constructed in the post-Dust Bowl era of the mid-20th century. Originally built to provide water for cattle or for recreational fishing, many of these ponds now host thriving populations of amphibians At right, a typical farm pond in Ringgold County, Iowa. In addition to providing water for livestock, this pond also hosts Plains Leopard Frogs (Lithobates blairi) and American Bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus).
Vernal Pool Conservation in Pennsylvania
Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that undergo an annual cycle of desiccation and inundation. When snowmelt and rain fill the pools in the spring, amphibians migrate to the pools en masse to breed. By mid-summer, most of the amphibian larvae have metamorphosed into miniature versions of their parents and leave the pools to seek shelter and food in the surrounding uplands. At this time, the pools have dried, leaving only a sparsely vegetated depression in the forest floor.
For my undergraduate honors thesis, I tested a set of rapid assessment tools developed for predicting the richness, diversity and abundance of amphibians in vernal pools based on the pool's biotic and abiotic features including water chemistry, vegetation, and size. The publication resulting from this work can be found here.