IWWR Fellowship: Abstracts for 2016 Students

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IWWR Fellowship: Abstracts for 2016 Students

Amelia J. Raquel 

Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Fellowship

Thesis: Patterns of Duck Community Composition in the Prairie Pothole Region: Effects of Climate and Land Use; Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.

Changes in duck community composition are evident from long-term surveys in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR). Altered temperature and precipitation regimes associated with climate change could strongly impact community structure and ecological functions of ducks in this region. Duck species have already been shown to respond to changes in climate, adjusting their timing of migration and subsequent timing of nesting. Additionally, climate change may alter habitat, which may further exacerbate land use changes already present as a result of agricultural intensification. Changes to these habitats may impact the duck community because each species has affinities to specific pond conditions and adjacent upland habitat.

Understanding impacts of both climate and land use changes on duck populations will help identify species that may be more seriously affected by ongoing and anticipated environmental changes, which will assist appropriate adaptation of conservation strategies. Amelia’s broad research objective is to more fully understand mechanisms underlying how these changes influence duck community composition in the PPR. She will focus on three main hypotheses: redistribution, climate change, and land use change. Amelia will use existing long-term datasets and obtain new field observations in Alberta and Saskatchewan to determine whether and how:

  • the duck community has redistributed over time within the PPR,
  • varying spring phenology associated with climate change has altered timing of breeding activities and subsequent nest success,
  • land use change has contributed to shifts in duck distribution and abundance

Thomas Riecke

Bonnycastle Fellowship in Wetland and Waterfowl Biology

Thesis: Perturbations, heterogeneity, and senescence: Examining residual reproductive value in a long-lived goose. Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada

Birds often make trade-offs during the breeding season in an attempt to maximize their lifetime breeding success, such as skipping nesting in one year to increase survival to the next. These trade-offs may be more prevalent in longer lived species, such as geese, though the factors influencing their decisions require further study. For his PhD, Thomas is exploring this topic using data from a long-term study at the Tutakoke River Brant Colony in Alaska, which were collected across a range of population densities, predation pressures, climatic conditions, habitat conditions and individual ages and qualities. Specifically, his objectives are to examine:

  • The effects of an individual’s current and previous reproductive effort and experience on their future reproductive potential
  • How nest predation by foxes and gosling growth and pre-fledging survival influence future reproductive decisions by adults
  • The effects of nest density and predation on colony age distributions and reproductive potential

His research will assist managing brant populations by improving our understanding of why populations vary, compensatory mortality processes, and long-term effects of predation on reproduction in waterfowl.

Christine Rohal

Bonnycastle Fellowship for Prairie Ecosystem Studies

Thesis: Restoring Phragmites invaded wetlands: A large-scale experimental approach to guiding effective management. Ecology Center and Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah

The invasive plant, Phragmites australis, has been expanding rapidly in wetlands across North America. It has recently invaded large swaths of wetlands of the Great Salt Lake (GSL), Utah, which is a major concern since these wetlands are a critical stopover for millions of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl. Managers here consider the Phragmites invasion their priority management concern, and spend tens of thousands of dollars annually to remove it, but with mixed success. The objectives of Christine’s PhD thesis is to improve Phragmites management by evaluating multiple methods of removal. These methods include 1.) summer mow, fall glyphosate spray, 2.) summer glyphosate spray, winter mow, 3.) fall glyphosate spray, winter mow, 4.) summer imazapyr spray, winter mow, 5.) summer mow, then black plastic solarization, 6.) untreated control.  She will evaluate the following questions across study plots:

  • What are effective treatments for reducing Phragmites cover in wetlands?
  • What are treatment impacts on native wetland plant communities?
  • How do environmental factors impact treatment effectiveness?

Matt Dyson

DUC-MBNA Conservation Fellowship

Thesis: Waterfowl nest success in the western boreal forest: Does resource development alter predation rates? School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada

The western boreal forest (WBF) is the second most important waterfowl breeding area in North America, supporting 12-15 million birds annually. Resource development, including forestry and oil and gas, has rapidly intensified in the region and there is growing concern over its potential effect on waterfowl populations. Habitat loss and fragmentation are a direct result of the infrastructure (e.g., linear features such as roads, pipelines, seismic lines, well pads) required by resource development and effects have been demonstrated on many species of birds and mammals. However, our understanding of effects on waterfowl and their predators is limited. The objective of Matt’s PhD research is to investigate potential effects of industrial activities on duck populations by examining changes in nest success and predator communities across of gradients of resource development levels. He will use a combination of field experiments and agent-based models to assess:

  • How increasing industrial development changes (simulated) predator movement patterns
  • Whether duck predators increase in abundance as the landscape becomes more fragmented
  • If duck nest success decreases as development levels increase
  • The relative importance of different industrial landscape changes to nest success.

Megan Ross

Dr. Bruce D. J.  Batt Fellowship in Waterfowl Conservation

Thesis: Ecological Factors affecting midcontinent light goose recruitment. Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.

Light goose population growth is an important concern for managers, who are attempting to control populations by reducing adult female survival. However, a full understanding of waterfowl population dynamics, hence potential impacts of management actions, requires that both recruitment and adult survival are known. Recruitment into the breeding population is potentially influenced during life stages both on and off breeding grounds, although our knowledge of key factors in light geese is limited. The objective of Megan’s MSc project is to better understand factors influencing recruitment in Ross’s and Lesser Snow Geese nesting at Karrak Lake, Nunavut. She will use a long term dataset to assess if recruitment responded to:

  • Density-dependence on northern spring staging grounds, leading to nutritional deficiencies of pre-breeding females arriving to nest; and
  • Phenological mismatch between peak gosling hatch and the peak in forage quality on the brood-rearing areas.

Her research will help inform population control measures by providing insight into current population trajectories and the relative effects of recruitment vs. survival in governing annual variation in abundance of light geese.

Kyle Kuechle

Edward D. and Sally M. Futch Graduate Fellowship

Thesis: Quantifying neonicotinoid concentrations in Missouri public wetlands and the corresponding threat to aquatic food webs. University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticide widely adopted for agricultural use throughout North America and Europe, in large part because they are selectively more toxic to insects than vertebrates.  Neonicotinoids are highly water soluble and can have reported half-lives of greater than 1000 days. The combination of these characteristics in conjunction with their widespread use suggests neonicotinoids may runoff into wetlands, which could affect aquatic ecosystems across large spatial scales. However, the abiotic and biotic landscape factors that influence neonicotinoid concentrations in wetlands are unclear. The objective of Kyle’s MSc research is to better predict neonicotinoids levels in Missouri public wetlands. Specifically, he will

  • Quantify neonicotinoid concentrations in wetlands and evaluate landscape characteristics correlated with those concentrations
  • Develop a predictive model for temporal and spatial variation in neonicotinoid concentrations in Missouri wetlands, based on watershed and wetland characteristics

This tool will allow wetland managers to predict the ecosystem level effects that may be associated with varying neonicotinoid concentrations and provide additional information when considering the potential impacts of management decisions to aquatic ecosystems.