My research interests center around the influence of urbanization on biodiversity, particularly its impacts on bird species. I am primarily interested in the area of overlap between rare and threatened species and abundant or “superabundant” native species. My doctoral research focuses on the behavioral ecology of striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) inhabiting coastal waterbird nesting areas using a landscape perspective.
Along the Atlantic Coast, several species of beach-nesting birds are rare and threatened or on watchlists. They include the piping plover (Charadrius melodus), least tern (Sterna antillarum), and the American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus). Much of the Atlantic Coast nesting habitat for plovers, terns and oystercatchers is directly adjacent to suburban or exurban areas such that predators associated with these habitats spillover into the adjacent beaches and limit productivity for these nesting birds. Striped skunks are one of these predators, and they are known as an egg predator. However, we know little of their impacts on chicks. Furthermore, all of the life history information available for striped skunks came from research in habitats that vary considerably from the Atlantic Coast.
My doctoral research (PDF 707K) will provide life history information on skunks living in coastal areas and describe their interactions and impacts on beach-nesting birds. By describing skunk home ranges, nightly movements, resource use when resting and foraging, den and retreat characteristics, and the diet of skunks in this habitat, I am providing managers with necessary information to create integrated predator management plans to address the impacts of this species on beach-nesting birds. These plans may include habitat modification to reduce the amount of available food and shelter resources for skunks and/or methods to remove skunks humanely, effectively, and efficiently.
In my post-doctoral research career I hope to continue working with rare and threatened coastal species, particularly those impacted by urbanization and human activities on and near beaches. I would like to maintain my connection to the mid-Atlantic Coast as many other species need the attention of researchers in this region. Of particular interest are bird species inhabiting the globally rare sandplain habitats on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Long Island. These islands are under extreme development pressure, thus it is important to understand the impacts of urbanization in these habitats.
Advisor: Dr. Jon Atwood
Co-Advisor: Dr. Steve DeStefano, USGS Mass. Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit
Dr. Scott Melvin Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Natural Heritage Program
Dr. Charles Curtin, Antioch University New England