My thesis research interests for my MS are in the biogeography of tidal marsh bird populations on the northern Atlantic coast. Specifically I will be concentrating on change in the populations of Saltmarsh and Nelson’s sparrows, Willets, and Common Terns, all of which are birds that use tidal marsh habitat heavily either for breeding or feeding during the summer. I have been collecting historical datasets from point count surveys done in northern Atlantic coast tidal marshes from the past 20 years and compiling them into a database that will be later compared with point count surveys we will conduct in the next two summers (2011 and 2012). This effort is part of a region-wide collaborative effort through the larger SHARP project (through which I am funded) to get an idea of the current status of tidal marsh bird populations in Bird Conservation Region 30, which spans from the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia to Northern Maine.
I have been working as a wildlife technician and field manager for a series of research projects since graduation from my undergrad degree in 2003. Most recently I worked for Massachusetts Audubon leading a crew that monitored waterbird nests on the beaches of Massachusetts. Through this appointment I became familiar with tidal marsh habitat as well as the bird species that utilized that habitat. After Maine received the SWG grant Tom and Brian listed an opening for a graduate student investigating tidal marsh bird biogeography in New England. This caught my eye as something that would interest me, and I had long been wanting to go back to school for my Master’s degree. So, I applied, was accepted, and here I am!
SHARP (the Saltmarsh Habitat Avian Research Program) is a collaborative effort made up of four Universities (UConn, U Delaware, U Maine, UNH) and several research organizations (National Audubon Society, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife) investigating the current status of tidal marsh bird populations throughout the northeast. Salt and tidal marshes are at great risk of change due to the effects of climate change on the marsh vegetation composition and size (due to sea level rise). This potentially puts stress on tidal marsh obligate breeders such as the Saltmarsh Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, Willet, Clapper Rail and Seaside Sparrow, as well as birds that do not breed there exclusively but use the marsh as a food source. We hope to gain significant insight into the breeding ecology of these tidal marsh obligates as well as a larger idea of trends in species occurrence across tidal marshes in BCR 30. The project was funded largely by a State Wildlife Grant from the USFWS awarded to the state of Maine.
I received a GSG grant to travel to a conference that also acted as the first SHARP meeting. The larger SHARP project has recently received a notable amount of UMaine press, including an article in the most recent Maine Campus and a photo-banner and related article on the UMaine main website. I am co-advised by Tom Hodgman at the at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Brian Olsen, who is research faculty through the School of Biology and Ecology.