Research

I am interested in wildlife habitat selection, movement ecology, and how wildlife use landscapes altered by humans, especially agricultural landscapes. My current research focuses on eastern spotted skunks, a once common mesocarnivore of special interest to many states, including Arkansas where my efforts are located. I am also involved in other projects using camera traps and scat samples to better understand wildlife behavior, resource needs, and habitat selection. Current project involvements are listed below; follow my publications and projects on my ResearchGate profile.

M.S. Thesis: Habitat Selection and Home Range Patterns of Eastern Spotted Skunks (Spilogale putorius) in the Arkansas Ozarks

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An eastern spotted skunk captured in Ozark National Forest as part of my thesis research.

Many projects are contributing to a growing body of literature on eastern spotted skunks, but few recent research focused efforts in the Ozarks. My thesis work aims to fill this gap with a study answering basic ecological questions on the species in this landscape. A one year camera trap survey revealed few eastern spotted skunks and our live-trapping effort yielded two collared individuals. I will use my data with data from two previous projects in the region to develop a species distribution model for the eastern spotted skunk, which will provide targeted locations for future research projects. I am a member of the Gompper Lab at Mizzou and thesis work is funded by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Disease Ecology in Eastern Spotted Skunks

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Damage from skunk cranial worm in an eastern spotted skunk skull.

This effort started as a class project during the first semester of my master’s work. In reading through the eastern spotted skunk literature, I came across a metastrongylid nematode found in all North American skunk species called Skrjabingylus. The worm, which we named skunk cranial worm, inhabits the skull of its host and can cause trauma to the skull ranging from slight bulging to extensive lesions. We are using mammal collections to quantify prevalence of this nematode across time, especially relating to the severe population decline of eastern spotted skunks beginning in the 1940s. This project will be included in my thesis.

Tayra Activity and Occupancy in São Paulo, Brazil

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A tayra captured on a camera trap in the State of São Paulo, Brazil.

In summer 2018, I traveled to Brazil to partner with Dr. Rita Bianchi and her lab at Universidade Estadual Paulista to evaluate activity and occupancy patterns of the tayra in São Paulo State. Her lab has conducted camera surveys in natural areas throughout the state for several years and I am excited to partner with them on analyzing this aspect of the data. The project is still in its formative stages, but we hope to have the analyses done and paper outlined by the end of the summer. My travel was funded by the Brown Fellowship through the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources.

Proactive Anti-Predator Behavior of White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) during Fawning Season

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A coyote walks by a camera site.

While working as a research technician in the Roan Highlands, I developed a side project to identify where feral hogs spent time in the summer months using camera traps. Luckily, we couldn’t find any feral hogs, but we did find an interesting behavioral pattern in white-tailed deer with fawns in relation to coyote activity. This project was funded by the USGS Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and housing was provided by the Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy. The paper is currently in preparation.

Carnivore Diet in Virginia

I became involved with this project when I was hired as a technician at Virginia Tech by Drs. Marcella Kelly and Dana Morin.  The study sought to discover dietary patterns of coyotes, black bears, and bobcats in the Virginia mountains using scat. We published one paper looking at the effects of misidentification of scats in the field on the accuracy of diet study results. There is more to come on this project, including a deeper look at bobcat and fox diet. Funding was provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and additional support was provided by the Appalachian members of the Virginia Deer Hunter Association, The Nature Conservancy, the Edna Bailey Sussman Foundation, the Student Undergraduate Research Foundation, and the Cunningham Fellowship.

Morin, D. J., S. D. Higdon, J. L. Holub, D. M. Montague, M. Fies, L. P. Waits, M. J. Kelly.  2016.  Bias in carnivore diet analysis as a result of misclassification of predator scats based on field identification.  Wildlife Society Bulletin 40(4):669-677.  PDF

Raccoon Vigilance and Interactions with Deer at Baited Sites

This project started as an undergraduate research project with Drs. Marcus Lashley and Colter Chitwood. We quantified raccoon vigilance at baited camera trap sites on Fort Bragg Military Installation in North Carolina. We also observed interactions between raccoons and white-tailed deer at the sites. Papers resulting from this study are in preparation.

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