Evaluating capture techniques and population demographics of southern flying squirrels in fragmented Midwestern landscapes
Southern flying squirrels (SFS) are arboreal mammals that are widely distributed across eastern North America. Because SFS are active year-round, communally nest during the non-mating season, and exhibit intersexual differences in territoriality between males and females, they are excellent organisms to evaluate hypotheses related to space use, seasonal survival, parasite-host interactions, and efficacy of capture techniques. Because of the unique landscape characteristics (e.g., high forest fragmentation) across the Midwest, population and disease dynamics of SFSs may vary relative to other landscapes characterized by more contiguous forests. Evaluation of basic life history characteristics and potential effects of ecological factors on capture success may provide additional insight into future conservation efforts for this species across Midwestern landscapes.
Estimating density of bobcats with capture-mark-recapture data from camera traps
Wildlife managers and researchers across Illinois need a feasible field technique for monitoring temporal changes in bobcat abundance. This study will result in rigorous estimates of bobcat population size, density, and probability of detection in northern Illinois. Further, this study will identify relationships between camera density, variation in habitat types, and bobcat detection probabilities. A greater understanding of factors influencing bobcat detection probabilities will be used to develop efficient camera sampling protocols, and subsequent validation of established protocols across the state where habitat types and bobcat densities vary.
Results of this study also will contribute to a greater understanding of spatial and temporal effects on home range use by bobcats in agriculturally-dominated landscapes. Increased knowledge of spatial requirements of bobcats in west-central Illinois will aid in refining camera survey protocols for subsequent use in estimating bobcat abundance across fragmented Midwestern landscapes.
Refining Plasma Lipid Metabolites to Index Changes in Lipid Reserves in Lesser Scaup
The continental lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) population has been in decline since the mid-1970s. Previous research suggests that this is partly explained by changes in wetland quality and abundance, and an associated reduction in quality forage for scaup. Plasma-lipid metabolites (PLM) have been used to index daily mass changes in wild birds by comparing triglyceride and β-hydroxybutyrate concentrations with known daily mass changes. Changes in lipid reserves provides a quantitative method for assessing wetland quality. Our research objectives focus on examining sources of variation in development of PLM indices and potential effects of diet and sex on metabolite concentrations. Increased understanding of the fate of acquired nutrients is needed to further refine and develop PLM indices and potentially characterize wetland quality based on nutritional requirements of wetland obligate species.
Using Canvasbacks as a Bioindicator of Wetland Quality in the Upper Midwest
Our research utilizes newly available techniques to determine if traditional Illinois stopover sites for canvasbacks (e.g, wetlands that are presumed to be of higher quality) harbor individuals in greater body condition than lower quality wetlands. Unlike other waterfowl species that may derive their energy from adjacent habitat types (e.g., agricultural fields), canvasbacks are a wetland obligate species, so will serve as a focal species for assessing wetland quality across critical staging areas during spring migration. Thus, results of our study may assist the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other state/federal agencies with the geographic prioritization of waterfowl conservation efforts. Further, our assessment of wetland quality across Illinois may be in indicator of how sensitive spring migration habitat presently is for canvasbacks, which in turn may help to identify specific life stages whereby management may help with future conservation of this species.
Evaluating gene expression in chronic wasting disease (CWD) infected white-tailed deer
Research focused on identifying alterations in gene expression in CWD-infected white-tailed deer is critical for better understanding the pathogenesis mechanisms of this disease. Identification of differentially expressed genes involved in the pathogenesis of CWD may enable researchers and game managers to predict the infectious status of harvested deer using gene expression (transcriptome) profiles developed from this study. Results of this study also would be used to evaluate the feasibility of genetic profiling as an alternative method for CWD-testing. Based upon established homology between domestic cow and white-tailed deer chromosomes, results obtained from this study will be directly comparable to similar studies evaluating changes in gene expression occurring in bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-infected cattle and CWD-infected elk.
Estimating Energetic Carrying Capacity in Semi-Permanent Marshes for Dabbling Ducks in the Upper Midwest
In highly modified aquatic systems, successful restoration and management may include maintaining disconnected floodplains and wetlands from rivers or large lakes due to detrimental effects associated with connectivity. While the loss of submersed aquatic vegetation from hydrologically-connected wetlands and backwater lakes along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers is well-documented, information is unavailable to determine the implications of these losses on energetic carrying capacity for waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks. A primary objective of this study is to assist in estimating parameters needed in energetic carrying capacity models by conservation planners, including biomass of submersed aquatic vegetation in a restored wetland along the Illinois River.
Evaluation of an Aerial Quadrat Waterfowl Survey along the Illinois River
Aerial counts of waterfowl have been conducted along the Illinois River of Illinois since 1948. Methodologies have remained consistent since initiation of the survey, making the survey a reliable index of waterfowl abundances over time. A wide range of stakeholders use aerial survey data of waterfowl for recreation, research, conservation planning, and administrative purposes. However, there is increasing need to estimate actual population size by using a randomized survey design and incorporating methods which allow determination of detection probability. We will estimate population sizes and associated variances of autumn-migrating waterfowl along the Illinois River concurrent with traditional aerial waterfowl inventories to compare estimates and counts and develop a linkage between future survey data and past inventory data.
Marsh bird use of wetlands managed for waterfowl in Illinois
Marsh birds are an understudied guild of wetland-associated species that can be valuable indicators of wetland health and condition. As wetlands have declined in Illinois, likely so have marsh birds, but until recently lack of standardized monitoring protocols made assessing population size and wetland occupancy difficult. It is widely assumed that waterfowl management activities benefit other birds, but few studies have quantified those benefits or evaluated tradeoffs among management strategies for multiple species. This study will determine marsh bird use across a wide range of representative wetland types, hydrologic regimes, management practices, and past disturbance regimes in Illinois and compare and contrast intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of wetlands to bird metrics.