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Animal ecology

Science Spotlights

Arm reaching into stream water with sampling cup
The mountain sucker has been declining in the Upper Missouri River Basin for unknown reasons. To address this uncertainty, a team of Forest Service researchers collected additional genetic data from these fish to find a section of DNA that is completely unique to this new species and developed an environmental DNA assay to detect this unique DNA fragment in water samples with increased accuracy. 
A picture of a small cage with abundant blanket flowers.
A recent meta-analysis collating global results from seed predation studies found that small mammals may structure plant communities around the world, with an interesting twist – in deserts where seeds are relatively small, they suppress large-seeded plants, but in systems like tropical forests, where seed sizes are much larger, they tend to suppress relatively small seeded plant species.
Figure showing intra-annual (e.g. seasons), intermittent (e.g. fire), and interannual (e.g. climate change) dynamics in ungulate migration.
Connectivity is becoming a key conservation strategy to maintain biodiversity given widespread habitat loss, land-use change, and fragmentation. Because landscapes are inherently dynamic, incorporating dynamic process into connectivity models can offer a better understanding of ecological processes and more accurate spatial outputs. The information provided by dynamic connectivity models can enhance the longevity and success of management and...
An adult and juvenile spotted owl looking out from a hole in a dead, charred tree.
Whether severe fire is good or bad for spotted owls will influence how some forests are managed for fire risk. In reality, the effects of severe fire on spotted owls depends on the size of severely-burned patches, as well as their configuration and complexity. Owls actively use small patches of severely-burned forest, but they avoid larger patches and will abandon territories that are extensively affected by severe fire.
A Mexican spotted owl sits on a branch.
Habitat loss and fragmentation are the most pressing threats to biodiversity, but understanding the potential for future habitat loss under climate change and its impacts across broad landscapes is difficult. Habitat selection models and area burned models that account for complex climate-fire relationships can help predict the impacts on species like the Mexican spotted owl.
Beetles crawling out of a white bucket into a tree.
Saltcedar (Tamarix spp.), an aggressively invasive Eurasian tree, is a dominant and widespread woody riparian species in the southwestern U.S. Biocontrol of saltcedar with the leaf beetle Diorhabda carinulata can be made more effective with semiochemicals (smells). 
A screenshot of the PhenoMap application.
PhenoMap monitors weekly changes in phenology (green-up and brown-down) across the western United States via satellite.  Weekly satellite values of “greenness” successfully tracked changes in phenology documented by phenology cameras in grasslands, shrublands, deciduous broadleaf, and mixed forests but demonstrated the difficulty of tracking changes in phenology of evergreen needleleaf forests.
Pump jacks harvest oil and gas resources from grasslands.
Major U.S. energy sources – fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), biofuels (ethanol), and wind – are concentrated in grassland ecosystems of the Great Plains. This research synthesized potential ecological effects and mitigation opportunities during renewable and non-renewable energy development in the Great Plains.  
A screenshot of the eDNAtlas Results Map for the Western United States.
Because of its advantages relative to traditional sampling techniques, environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling is being rapidly adopted to address questions about the distribution of species in streams across the United States. The eDNAtlas provides occurrence information for over 50 species from more than 12,000 samples and assists organizations in collecting more samples for specific areas and species. 
A closeup of the side of a tree with a white-headed woodpecker's head sticking out.
Salvage logging in burned forests can negatively affect habitat for white-headed woodpeckers (Dryobates albolarvatus), a species of conservation concern. To quantify and map suitable woodpecker habitat after wildfires, we developed habitat suitability index (HSI) models to inform forest management activities.