I'm interested in understanding how ecosystems and the biodiversity they support respond to human actions. I'm particularly interested in understanding how plants and animals utilize anthropogenic habitats and the properties of novel ecosystems. My MS research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign focuses on the amphibian communities of constructed farm ponds in southern Iowa. For my undersgraduate research I tested a rapid assessment protocol to be used to identify vernal pools south-central Pennsylvania with high value to amphibian conservation .
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. Recent estimates suggest that there may be as many as 3 million farm ponds in the Great Plains ecoregion alone. The majority of these ponds were constructed in the post-Dust Bowl era of the mid-20th century to provide water for cattle and aquaculture. Today, however many of these ponds are now hotspots for aquatic biodiversity in landscapes historically lacking lentic water bodies. Despite their potential value for biodiversity conservation, these novel ecosystems continue to be understudied by scientists and ignored by government agencies. 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. Our published paper can be found here.
The images at right depict a vernal pool in early spring (top), an eastern newt (Notopthalmus viridescen, bottom left) and a female wood frog (Lithobates sylvatica, bottom right).