You are here

Curtis H. Flather

Curt Flather

Research Ecologist

240 West Prospect Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526-2098
Contact Curtis H. Flather

Current Research

Extend the scientific basis for ecosystem management in a manner that maintains the character (structure and processes) of ecosystems while providing for human benefits derived from ecosystem services. My current research is focused in four broad areas:1. Improve the analysis of wildlife population and community response to spatial and temporal changes in climate, land use, and land cover within multiple-use landscapes.2. Develop and test cartographic-based approaches to biodiversity assessments.3. Extend conservation scientists' ability to design landscapes in a spatially explicit and perhaps optimal way.4. Document trends in wildlife resources for land use policy.

Research Interests

My research is focused generally on understanding wildlife population and community response to changing landscape patterns driven by climate change, land use, natural disturbance, and land management activities. There is growing evidence that the distribution and abundance of species may exhibit critical thresholds in their response to reduced habitat amounts, degradation in habitat quality, and increases in habitat fragmentation. My future work will test for the existence of these thresholds and explore their use in setting important conservation targets for how natural resources are managed.

Past Research

Many factors affect the pattern of biodiversity we observe across broad geographic areas. Some of those factors stem from natural disturbance events, others originate from the manner that humans occupy, manage, and modify the environments that also support a diverse array of species. The results from my research are expected to provide policy- and decision-makers with scientific information and predictions about how wildlife species may respond to natural and human-caused disturbances to landscapes. In particular, my research helps focus land management planning on those geographic areas requiring restoration efforts, and on those species that are vulnerable to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and climate change.

Why This Research is Important

  1. National assessment of the wildlife resource situation: I am the Forest Service's Wildlife and Fish Specialist for Resource Assessments. Under this assignment I have had the lead responsibility for completing the agency's national assessments of wildlife resource status and trends in 1990, 2000, and 2010 to support the Agency's resource planning efforts.
  2. Geography of species endangerment: The sheer number of species listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 raised concerns about the feasibility of addressing the problem of species extinction of a species-by-species basis. I used endangered species hotspots as a way of identifying ecosystems that warrant conservation focus.
  3. Developing indicators of sustainable resource development: There has been a shift in natural resource management that is focusing on long-term sustainability of ecosystems as a measure of responsible resource stewardship. I was involved in an effort to define and quantify a set of indicators that related to biodiversity conservation and sustainable forestry.
  4. Application of spatial optimization in species conservation: Given that conservation dollars are limited, we need to make management recommendations that result in the biggest bang for our conservation buck. I have been involved in a number of studies looking at the effects of habitat fragmentation and the optimal placement of habitats to conserve species.


  • University of Vermont, B.S., Wildlife Biology, 1979
  • Colorado State University, M.S., Wildlife Biology, 1982
  • Colorado State University, Ph.D., Wildlife Biology, 1992
  • Professional Experience

    Research Ecologist, USDA, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
    1987 to present

    Research Wildlife Biologist, USDA, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
    1982 to 1987

    Biological Technician, USDA, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
    1979 to 1982

    Professional Organizations

    • Landscape Ecology, Editorial Board ( 2004 to 2007 )
      Editorial Board, Coordinated peer review and made publication recommendations
    • The American Naturalist, Editorial Board ( 2002 to 2005 )
      Editorial Board, Coordinated peer review and made publication recommendations
    • Environmental Management, Editorial Board ( 1999 to 2004 )
      Coordinated peer review and made publication recommendations
    • The Wildlife Society, Editorial Board ( 1990 to 1993 )
      Coordinated peer review and made publication recommendations


    Publication Award, 2012
    Selected Flather (1996) as an influential contribution to the understanding of species-area relationships and compiled as one of 24 papers included in a virtual issue of the Journal of Biogeography
    Publication Award, 2012
    Influential paper on endangered species. Flather et al. (1998) was picked by the editors of BioScience as one of 18 papers featured in a collection of papers on endangered species published by Univ. Calif. Press.
    Publication Award, 2011
    Best Scientific Publication, Rocky Mountain Research Station
    Publication Award, 2000
    For best natural science article. Awarded by The Center for Great Plains Studies for the paper: Sieg, C.H., C.H. Flather, and S. McCanny. Recent biodiversity patterns in the Great Plains: implications for restoration and management. Great Plains Res.
    Publication award, 1998
    Outstanding paper in the field of landscape ecology awarded to Flather and Sauer (1996)
    Publication Award, 1998
    Outstanding paper in the field of Landscape Ecology. Awarded for the paper Flather and Sauer (1998) Using landscape ecology to test hypotheses about large-scale abundance patterns in migratory birds.
    Publication Award, 1998
    Patuxent Scientific Achievement Award. Awarded for the paper by Boulinier et al. (1998). Higher temporal variability of forest breeding bird communities in fragmented landscapes.


    Sofaer, Helen R.; Flather, Curtis H.; Skagen, Susan K.; Steen, Valerie A.; Noon, Barry R., 2019. Clustering and ensembling approaches to support surrogatebased species management
    Martinuzzi, Sebastian; Allstadt, Andrew J.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Flather, Curtis H.; Jolly, William M.; Radeloff, Volker C., 2019. Future changes in fire weather, spring droughts, and false springs across U.S. National Forests and Grasslands
    Carter, Sarah K.; Fleishman, Erica; Leinwand, Ian I F.; Flather, Curtis H.; Carr, Natasha B.; Fogarty, Frank A.; Leu, Matthias; Noon, Barry R.; Wohlfeil, Martha E.; Wood, David J. A., 2019. Quantifying ecological integrity of terrestrial systems to inform management of multiple-use public lands in the United States
    Cubbage, Frederick; Abt, Robert; Sheffield, Ray; Flather, Curtis H.; Wickham, James, 2018. Forest wetland area and the forest sector economy in the U.S. South
    Sofaer, Helen R.; Jarnevich, Catherine S.; Flather, Curtis H., 2018. Misleading prioritizations from modelling range shifts under climate change
    Reynolds, Richard T.; Lambert, Jeffrey; Flather, Curtis H.; White, Gary C.; Bird, Benjamin J.; Baggett, L. Scott; Lambert, Carrie; Bayard de Volo, Shelley, 2017. Long-term demography of the Northern Goshawk in a variable environment
    Hayward, Gregory D.; Flather, Curtis H.; Rowland, Mary M.; Terney, Regis; Mellen-McLean, Kim; Malcolm, Karl D.; McCarthy, Clinton; Boyce, Douglas A., 2016. Applying the 2012 Planning Rule to conserve species: A practitioner's reference
    Carter, Sarah K.; Carr, Natasha B.; Flather, Curtis H.; Fleishman, Erica; Leu, Matthias; Noon, Barry R.; Wood, David J. A., 2016. Assessing ecological integrity using multiscale information from Bureau of Land Management Assessment and Monitoring Programs [Chapter 4]
    Bateman, Brooke L.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Radeloff, Volker C.; Flather, Curtis H.; VanDerWal, Jeremy; Akcakaya, H. Resit; Thogmartin, Wayne E.; Albright, Thomas P.; Vavrus, Stephen J.; Heglund, Patricia J., 2016. Potential breeding distributions of U.S. birds predicted with both short-term variability and long-term average climate data
    Evans, Daniel M.; Che-Castaldo, Judy P.; Crouse, Deborah; Davis, Frank W.; Epanchin-Niell, Rebecca; Flather, Curtis H.; Frohlich, R. Kipp; Goble, Dale D.; Li, Ya-Wei; Male, Timothy D.; Master, Lawrence L.; Moskwik, Matthew P.; Neel, Maile C.; Noon, Barry R.; Parmesan, Camille; Schwartz, Mark W.; Scott, J. Michael; Williams, Byron K., 2016. Species recovery in the United States: Increasing the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act
    Gutzwiller, Kevin J.; Riffell, Samuel K.; Flather, Curtis H., 2015. Avian abundance thresholds, human-altered landscapes, and the challenge of assemblage-level conservation
    Wood, Eric M.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Radeloff, Volker C.; Helmers, David P.; Culbert, Patrick D.; Keuler, Nicholas S.; Flather, Curtis H., 2015. Long-term avian community response to housing development at the boundary of US protected areas: Effect size increases with time
    Nelson, Mark D.; Flather, Curtis H.; Riitters, Kurt H.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Garner, James D., 2015. National report on sustainable forests—2015: conservation of biological diversity
    Wood, Eric M.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Radeloff, Volker C.; Helmers, David; Culbert, Patrick D.; Keuler, Nicholas S.; Flather, Curtis H., 2014. Housing development erodes avian community structure in U.S. protected areas
    Wood, Eric M.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Radeloff, Volker C.; Helmers, David; Culbert, Patrick D.; Keuler, Nicholas S.; Flather, Curtis H., 2014. Housing development erodes avian community structure in U.S. protected areas
    Kalyuzhny, Michael; Seri, Efrat; Chocron, Rachel; Flather, Curtis H.; Kadmon, Ronen; Shnerb, Nadav M., 2014. Niche versus neutrality: a dynamical analysis
    Reese, Gordon C.; Wilson, Kenneth R.; Flather, Curtis H., 2014. Performance of species richness estimators across assemblage types and survey parameters
    Czech, B.; Covington, S.; Crimmins, T. M.; Ericson, J. A.; Flather, Curtis H.; Gale, M.; Gerst, K.; Higgins, M.; Kaib, M.; Marino, E.; Moran, T.; Morton, J.; Niemuth, N.; Peckett, H.; Savignano, D.; Saperstein, L.; Skorupa, S.; Wagener, E.; Wilen, B.; Wolfe, B., 2014. Planning for climate change on the National Wildlife Refuge System
    Pidgeon, Anna M.; Flather, Curtis H.; Radeloff, Volker C.; Lepczyk, Christopher A.; Keuler, Nicholas S.; Wood, Eric M.; Stewart, Susan I.; Hammer, Roger B., 2014. Systematic temporal patterns in the relationship between housing development and forest bird biodiversity
    Kalyuzhny, Michael; Schreiber, Yishai; Chocron, Rachel; Flather, Curtis H.; Kessler, David A.; Shnerb, Nadav M., 2014. Temporal fluctuation scaling in populations and communities
    Cushman, Samuel A.; Landguth, Erin L.; Flather, Curtis H., 2013. Evaluating population connectivity for species of conservation concern in the American Great Plains
    Reese, Gordon C.; Wilson, Kenneth R.; Flather, Curtis H., 2013. Program SimAssem: software for simulating species assemblages and estimating species richness
    Sturges, Frank; Joyce, Linda A.; Brown, Thomas C.; Flather, Curtis H.; Mockrin, Miranda H.; Reeves, Matt C., 2013. Science You Can Use Bulletin: Coming to a landscape near you: Natural resource changes in the Interior West
    Culbert, Patrick D.; Radeloff, Volker C.; Flather, Curtis H.; Kellndorfer, Josef M.; Rittenhouse, Chadwick D.; Pidgeon, Anna M., 2013. The influence of vertical and horizontal habitat structure on nationwide patterns of avian biodiversity
    Lepczyk, Christopher A.; Wunnicke, Aaron; Radeloff, Volker C.; Flather, Curtis H.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Hammer, Roger B., 2013. Using housing growth to estimate habitat change: detecting Ovenbird response in a rapidly growing New England State
    Rittenhouse, Chadwick D.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Albright, Thomas P.; Culbert, Patrick D.; Clayton, Murray K.; Flather, Curtis H.; Masek, Jeffrey G.; Radeloff, Volker C., 2012. Land-cover change and avian diversity in the conterminous United States
    Culbert, Patrick D.; Radeloff, Volker C.; St-Louis, Veronique; Flather, Curtis H.; Rittenhouse, Chadwick D.; Albright, Thomas P.; Pidgeon, Anna M., 2012. Modeling broad-scale patterns of avian species richness across the Midwestern United States with measures of satellite image texture
    Flather, Curtis H.; Hayward, Gregory D.; Beissinger, Steven R.; Stephens, Philip A., 2011. A general target for MVPs: Unsupported and unnecessary
    York, Patricia; Evangelista, Paul; Kumar, Sunil; Graham, James; Flather, Curtis H.; Stohlgren, Thomas, 2011. A habitat overlap analysis derived from Maxent for Tamarisk and the South-western Willow Flycatcher
    Hansen, Andrew J.; Phillips, Linda Bowers; Flather, Curtis H.; Robinson-Cox, Jim, 2011. Carrying capacity for species richness as context for conservation: a case study of North American birds
    Albright, Thomas P.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Rittenhouse, Chadwick D.; Clayton, Murray K.; Flather, Curtis H.; Culbert, Patrick D.; Radeloff, Volker C., 2011. Heat waves measured with MODIS land surface temperature data predict changes in avian community structure
    Flather, Curtis H.; Knowles, Mike; Sieg, Carolyn H., 2011. Indicator 1.04: Number of native forest-associated species
    Beissinger, Steven R.; Flather, Curtis H.; Hayward, Gregory D.; Stephens, Philip A., 2011. No safety in numbers
    Phillips, Linda Bowers; Hansen, Andrew J.; Flather, Curtis H.; Robinson-Cox, Jim, 2010. Applying species-energy theory to conservation: A case study for North American birds
    Rittenhouse, Chadwick D.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Albright, Thomas P.; Culbert, Patrick D.; Clayton, Murray K.; Flather, Curtis H.; Huang, Chengquan; Masek, Jeffrey G.; Radeloff, Volker C., 2010. Avifauna response to hurricanes: regional changes in community similarity
    Albright, Thomas P.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Rittenhouse, Chadwick D.; Clayton, Murray K.; Wardlow, Brian D.; Flather, Curtis H.; Culbert, Patrick D.; Radeloff, Volker C., 2010. Combined effects of heat waves and droughts on avian communities across the conterminous United States
    Rittenhouse, Chadwick D.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Albright, Thomas P.; Culbert, Patrick D.; Clayton, Murray K.; Flather, Curtis H.; Huang, Chengquan; Masek, Jeffrey G.; Stewart, Susan I.; Radeloff, Volker C., 2010. Conservation of forest birds: evidence of a shifting baseline in community structure
    Albright, Thomas P.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Rittenhouse, Chadwick D.; Clayton, Murray K.; Flather, Curtis H.; Culbert, Patrick D.; Wardlow, Brian D.; Radeloff, Volker C., 2010. Effects of drought on avian community structure
    Radeloff, Volker. C.; Stewart, Susan I.; Hawbaker, Todd J.; Gimmi, Urs; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Flather, Curtis H.; Hammer, Roger. B.; Helmers, David P., 2010. Housing growth in and near United States protected areas limits their conservation value
    Cushman, Samuel A.; Landguth, Erin L.; Flather, Curtis H., 2010. Phase I: Climate change and connectivity: Assessing landscape and species vulnerability
    McRoberts, Ronald E.; Nelson, Mark D.; Mahal, Lisa; Flather, Curtis H.; Alig, Ralph J.; Comas, Sara, 2010. Private forest habitat for at-risk species: where is it and where might it be changing?
    Shifley, S. R.; Flather, Curtis H.; Smith, W. B.; Riitters, K. H.; Sieg, Carolyn H., 2010. Status and progress in large-scale assessment of biological diversity in the United States
    Hayward, Gregory D.; Flather, Curtis H.; Uloth, Erin; Safford, Hugh D.; Cleaves, David A., 2009. Managing fish and wildlife habitat in the face of climate change: USDA Forest Service perspective
    Dickson, Brett G.; Noon, Barry R.; Flather, Curtis H.; Jentsch, Stephanie; Block, William M., 2009. Quantifying the multi-scale response of avifauna to prescribed fire experiments in the southwest United States
    Joyce, Linda A.; Flather, Curtis H.; Koopman, Marni, 2008. Analysis of potential impacts of climate change on wildlife habitats in the U.S.
    Cushman, Samuel A.; McKelvey, Kevin S.; Flather, Curtis H.; McGarigal, Kevin, 2008. Do forest community types provide a sufficient basis to evaluate biological diversity?
    Grunzweig, Jose M.; Carmel, Yohay; Riov, Joseph; Sever, Nava; McCreary, Douglas D.; Flather, Curtis H., 2008. Growth, resource storage, and adaptation to drought in California and eastern Mediterranean oak seedlings
    Lepczyk, Christopher A.; Flather, Curtis H.; Radeloff, Volker C.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Hammer, Roger B.; Liu, Jianguo, 2008. Human impacts on regional avian diversity and abundance
    Stohlgren, Thomas J.; Flather, Curtis H.; Jarnevich, Catherine S.; Barnett, David T.; Kartesz, John, 2008. Rejoinder to Harrison (2008): The myth of plant species saturation
    Stohlgren, Thomas J.; Barnett, David T.; Jarnevich, Catherine S.; Flather, Curtis H.; Kartesz, John, 2008. The myth of plant species saturation
    McCreary, Douglas; Gruzweig, Jose M.; Carmel, Yohay; Flather, Curtis H., 2008. The response of native oaks from California and Israel to drought
    Raphael, Martin G.; Molina, Randy; Flather, Curtis H.; Holthausen, Richard S.; Johnson, Richard L.; Marcot, Bruce G.; Olson, Deanna H.; Peine, John D.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Swanson, Cindy S., 2007. A process for selection and implementation of conservation approaches
    Pidgeon, A. M.; Radeloff, V. C.; Flather, Curtis H.; Lepczyk, C. A.; Clayton, M. K.; Hawbaker, T. J.; Hammer, R. B., 2007. Associations of forest bird species richness with housing and landscape pattern across the United States
    Hof, John; Flather, Curtis H., 2007. Optimization of landscape pattern [Chapter 8]
    Flather, Curtis H.; Sieg, Carolyn H., 2007. Species rarity: definition, causes, and classification
    Carmel, Yohay; Flather, Curtis H., 2006. Constrained range expansion and climate change assessments
    Flather, Curtis H.; Stohlgren, Thomas J.; Jarnevich, Catherine; Barnett, David; Kartesz, John, 2006. Plant species invasions along the latitudinal gradient in the United States: Reply
    Shriner, Susan A.; Wilson, Kenneth R.; Flather, Curtis H., 2006. Reserve networks based on richness hotspots and representation vary with scale
    Stohlgren, Thomas J.; Barnett, David T.; Flather, Curtis H.; Fuller, Pam L.; Peterjohn, Bruce G.; Kartesz, John T.; Master, Lawrence L., 2006. Species richness and patterns of invasion in plants, birds, and fishes in the United States
    Reese, Gordon C.; Wilson, Kenneth R.; Hoeting, Jennifer A.; Flather, Curtis H., 2005. Factors affecting species distribution predictions: A simulation modeling experiment
    Stohlgren, Thomas J.; Barnett, David; Flather, Curtis H.; Kartesz, John; Peterjohn, Bruce, 2005. Plant species invasions along the latitudinal gradient in the United States
    Cade, Brian S.; Noon, Barry R.; Flather, Curtis H., 2005. Quantile regression reveals hidden bias and uncertainty in habitat models
    Bender, Darren J.; Flather, Curtis H.; Wilson, Kenneth R.; Reese, Gordon C., 2005. Regional data to support biodiversity assessments: terrestrial vertebrate and butterfly data from the Southwest
    Flather, Curtis H.; Ricketts, Taylor H.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Knowles, Mike; Fay, John P.; McNees, Jason, 2003. Criterion 1: Conservation of biological diversity - Indicator 6: The number of forest dependent species
    Vance, Melissa D.; Fahrig, Lenore; Flather, Curtis H., 2003. Effect of reproductive rate on minimum habitat requirements of forest-breeding birds
    Bevers, Michael; Flather, Curtis H.; Hof, John; Kaiser, H. Fred, 2003. Sustaining wildlife populations in productively managed forests
    Boulinier, Thierry; Nichols, James D.; Hines, James E.; Sauer, John R.; Flather, Curtis H.; Pollock, Kenneth H., 2001. Forest fragmentation and bird community dynamics: inference at regional scales
    Hansen, Andrew J.; Neilson, Ronald P.; Dale, Virginia H.; Flather, Curtis H.; Iverson, Louis R.; Currie, David J.; Shafer, Sarah; Cook, Rosamonde; Bartlein, Partick J., 2001. Global change in forests: responses of species, communities, and biomes
    Loftus, Andrew J.; Flather, Curtis H., 2000. Fish and other aquatic resource trends in the United States
    Sieg, Carolyn H.; Flather, Curtis H.; McCanny, Stephen, 1999. Recent biodiversity patterns in the Great Plains: Implications for restoration and management
    Flather, Curtis H.; Wilson, Kenneth R.; Dean, Denis J.; McComb, William C., 1997. Identifying gaps in conservation networks: of indicators and uncertainty in geographic-based analyses
    Joyce, Linda A.; Flather, Curtis H.; Flebbe, Patricia A.; Hoekstra, Thomas W.; Ursic, Stan J., 1990. Integrating Forage, Wildlife, Water, and Fish Projections with Timber Projections at the Regional Level: A Case Study in Southern United States
    The swift fox is a species of conservation concern in the Great Plains (photo compliments of the National Park Service).
    Increasing human populations have fueled urban development and land conversion, causing substantial loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitat. In addition, climate change is expected to drive large-scale shifts in ecological conditions and geographic shifts in vegetation types. RMRS researchers found that species’ dispersal ability plays a larger role than its landscape resistance in determining connectivity. Specific information on habitat needs and connectivity issues for multiple species can better inform habitat management at landscape scales.
    Species like the European Starling (top, photo courtesy of Cephas/Creative Commons) thrive with human settlement.
    Housing development has been particularly strong near protected lands because many people see these environments as desirable places to live. This study documented the trends in new home construction near protected lands and explored if this housing development impacted biodiversity of avian species within protected areas.
    Findings from this project help resource specialists explore the potential impacts of declining hunting participation, identify regions and activities experiencing the greatest decline, anticipate changes to communities dependent on wildlife-associated recreation, and consider new mechanisms to fund wildlife management. 
    Climate change will affect wildlife directly through temperature and moisture changes and indirectly through habitat availability as vegetation types and ecosystem productivity changes. Our study focuses on the western United States, on an annual time frame, and at a 0.083 degree grid cell spatial scale.
    In the last decade there has been growing use of ecosystem services to economically justify biodiversity conservation programs that ultimately contribute to human well-being. The short term costs of biodiversity degradation remain overshadowed by the short term economic benefits of resource extraction and land use intensification to support growing human populations. Spatially explicit models of at-risk species occurrence are needed to anticipate where imperilment issues are likely to emerge in the future under alternative climate and land use scenarios. 
    We assessed whether theory about species’ geographic ranges can be refined to reflect abrupt changes in distribution and abundance associated with human-dominated land uses, and whether the prevalence and diversity of these abrupt relationships may significantly complicate the management of multiple species simultaneously.
    Population viability remains an important concept to Forest Service planning. Determining priorities for species conservation and management is facilitated by an ability to estimate the extinction risk associated with populations of different sizes. The need to set species population conservation targets, even in data-deficient situations, has prompted researchers to ask whether there are general guidelines that can supplant the need for species-specific estimates of extinction risk.
    To ensure that wetland habitats are conserved, an efficient means of identifying wetlands at risk of conversion is needed, especially in the southern United States where the rate of loss has been highest in recent decades.