Past Research Projects
Assessing Species-Habitat Relationships in Priority Open Pine Ecological Systems in MississippiAmber Owen, senior wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture major, surveyed six species in imperiled open pine ecosystems. In the Southeastern U.S., indicator species in imperiled open pine ecosystems provide wildlife managers and biologists insight into habitat conditions. In this study, Owen surveyed six indicator species: Bachman's sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis), Brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla), Northern bobwhite (Colinus virginiana), Red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis), Pine warbler (Setophaga pinus), and Prairie warbler (Setophaga discolor) in three management units containing upland pine forest in Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi. These species prefer open understory layers in a predominately pine system and the presence of some forbs and grasses. Owen used empirical point transect bird and forest structure surveys across a random sample of 161points during June 2016 to create species-habitat association models to further knowledge of how priority species interact with their habitat. She then used Poisson regression models in an information theoretic approach to assess target species relationships with forest structure variables. Pine and Prairie warblers were the most detected target species across management units. Of the target species, sample size allowed for habitat association models for Pine warbler, Prairie warbler and a guild of pine-grassland birds that included Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caeruea) Bachman's sparrow, Northern Bobwhite, and Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla). The model for Pine warbler showed a preference for pine basal area. Prairie Warbler models showed no noticeable preference for one habitat component with relative abundance influenced by components of pine basal area and overstory, hardwood midstory, and shrub and herbaceous ground cover. For the grassland guild, the preference was for midstory and understory.
Identification of Fungi From Naturally Durable WoodBonnie Dulaney, senior biochemistry major in 2014, studied microbial content in four naturally durable wood species. She was under the direction of Dr. Susan V. Diehl, professor in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts and researcher in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center. Dulaney evaluated fungus in black locust, catalpa, eastern red cedar, and western red cedar. She determined that catalpa wood samples were dominated by a fungus in the exophiala genus. The black locust wood samples were found to have a presence of the dothidea genus of fungi. Eastern and western red cedar were found to have uncultured fungal colonies. Additional clones of the fungal species present in catalpa verified the dominance of the exophiala genus, as well as the presence of dothidea in black locust wood.
Spatio-temporal distributions of the zooplankton community in a Puerto Rico reservoir
Bryant Haley, as a senior in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, studied the spatio-temporal distributions of the zooplankton community in a Puerto Rico reservoir. Since zooplankton provide an essential forage base for the development and maintenance of a balanced recreational fishery, Haley sought to learn more about the zooplankton community in the Carite reservoir in Puerto Rico. He assessed the movement of the zooplankton community over the course of a year. He observed little difference between density of zooplankton collected at inshore sites compared to limnetic sites. Dawn and dusk comparison found lower population density at dawn. Seasonally, the greatest population abundances were observed in the autumn and the lowest were observed in the spring. The research was part of a project between Mississippi State University and the Puerto Rican Department of Environment and Natural Resources in hopes of improving sport fisheries in reservoirs by understanding the underlying water quality potential of each reservoir. Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture graduate student, Clint Lloyd, contributed to the research. Dr. Wes Neal, associate extension professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture and researcher in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center was the project advisor. Haley has since graduated and is currently pursuing a graduate degree within the department.
How Animals Select HabitatIsabella Durham is a sophomore in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture. She is studying habitat selection. She hopes to determine if foraging animals select for perceived or actual habitat selection. Durham will develop nutritional substrates for the common fruit fly that vary in actual quality and perceived quality. She will then design and conduct experimental trials wherein the fruit flies will select breeding and foraging habitat from equally available resources of variable actual and perceived quality. The research will introduce Durham to techniques in entomology and population and movement ecology as well as produce new insight into the relationship between fine-scale behavioral processes and broad-scale patterns of distribution and abundance. Research may provide guidance for use of habitat selection for wildlife management and conservation. Durham will help prepare at least one peer-reviewed manuscript. Mentors include Garrett Street and Marcus Lashley, who are both assistant professors in Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture and Natraj Krishnan, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology, and Plant Pathology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Finding Ways for Commercial Production of Gulf KillifishJacob Jones is a junior in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture. He is studying the Gulf killifish. The fish, which move easily between fresh and saltwater, is a hardy species that is becoming popular baitfish for sportfish species such as redfish. For the killifish to be produced commercially, however, researchers have to address specific issues that are preventing the commercial culture of the species. The first has to do with developing protocols to establish enough spawning females to produce and care for the young. The second has to do with establishing egg collection and incubation methods that can be scaled up for use in commercial hatcheries. Jones will work alongside mentor, Peter Allen, associate professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture, to measure individual female egg output and determine the number of females needed for batch spawning. Additionally, the team will test different spawning substrate materials for egg deposition and ease of egg collection and incubation.
The Gulf KillifishJacob Jones, a senior wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture major, is studying the gulf killifish. The Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) is a small, euryhaline fish species occurring in estuarine areas along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast. This species is capable of rapidly moving between fresh and salt water and as a result is quite hardy to environmental changes, leading to its popularity as a baitfish for sportfish species such as Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) and Spotted Seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus). This remarkable trait also facilitates its culture in low salinity conditions, even freshwater ponds. However, several culture bottlenecks remain before Gulf Killifish can be developed at the commercial level. The primary bottleneck is the collection and incubation of eggs. In nature, females deposit eggs episodically on vegetation during new moon phases of tidal cycles. Recent research has shown that eggs can be collected in spawning mats suspended in tanks and incubated in a moist aerial environment, such as an incubator. Limitations are in difficulties associated with the separation of eggs from collection mats, and the space required to incubate eggs. Simplification of the process of egg collection and incubation is needed prior to commercialization. Therefore, this experiment compared egg deposition and fertilization by Gulf Killifish and the difficulty of collecting eggs using three different collection devices: spawning mats, disk collectors, and nylon mesh collectors. Adult Gulf Killifish were distributed in three commercial-scale (4,000-L) recirculating tank systems at 9 ppt. All three types of egg collection devices were used in each tank, with eggs collected every two days, quantifying collection time, egg abundance, and fertilization percentage. It was determined that the mesh collector was the most efficient device to use for collecting eggs from Gulf Killifish.
John Conner Almond
Exploring Optimal Foraging Theory and Connectivity in Managed Aquatic Systems with Pond Sliders (Trachemys scripta)
John Conner Almond, a senior majoring in Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, studied pond sliders to learn more about population dynamics and community interactions in aquaculture ecosystems. He studied the spatial and trophic ecology of pond sliders within unique ecosystems and learned how diet and selection for various food resources influenced the movements of aquatic turtles. He hopes his research will help inform the degree to which this organism interacts between different wetlands. Learning more about these types of interactions can provide insight into ecological patterns, wetland conservation and ecosystem management. Almond's undergraduate research advisor was Dr. Scott Rush, assistant professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture and researcher in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center.
Plot Size and Prediction Model Form Effects on Stand Diameter Distribution Recovery MethodsJosh Bankston, a forestry student, looked at various impacts on the accuracy of growth and yield models. Diameter distribution information of a forest stand provides insights in to the stand's value. In whole stand forest growth and yield systems, the future diameter distribution of a stand gets predicted by use of models that predict the stand's diameter moments and/or percentiles in conjunction with a mathematical system to recover the diameter distribution from the predicted moments and/or percentiles. For industry applications, it is important to know which combination of plot size, recovery method used, and moment/percentile equation form yields the most precise prediction of future stand diameter distribution. Being able to more accurately predict future stand diameter distribution can give better financial insight and aid in management making decisions associated with sampled forest stand. This research examined how various plot sizes which data were recorded from, recovery methods used to obtain predicted diameter distribution, and how different forms of moment/percentile prediction equations affect the precision of model development. Data used for this analysis were collected from 202 quarter-acre measurement plots that were located within 56 loblolly pine stands across Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The data were collected by the Mississippi State University Loblolly Pine Cooperative between 1981 and 1989. A total of 336 measurement observations were accounted for. Results indicated that precision is generally lower for smaller plot sizes. Changes in precision rank for the different recovery methods may occur as plot size increases. This result falls in line with our hypothesis of larger plot sizes yielding more precise results. Trends also show that distribution recovery methods are also less accurate in thinned stands. This trend is most likely due to disruption of the normal distribution when a stand undergoes a thinning operation. The quarter-acre plot size was shown to yield the most accurate results, but the slight increase in precision may not prove to be worth the extra money when a smaller plot size can be used and yield similar results.
Prescribed Fire in Upland Oak Forests: Impacts on Canopy Cover, Organic Layer, and Seedling DensityJosh Byers, senior Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation major, studied how canopy cover and depth of the soil organic layer could affect seedling density. Upland hardwood forests are beginning to shift from predominantly oak forests, to more competitive, shade tolerant species due to lack of fire in the ecosystem. Prescribed fire should help eliminate the seedlings of shade tolerant species that are out-competing oak seedlings, as well as increase understory light and reduce the soil organic layer. After analyzing the results of my experiment, out of the six sites, we concluded that: Single fire had minimal impact on canopy cover, multiple fires reduced canopy cover by 10%, both single and multiple fires reduced SOL depth, and finally, single fires had no impact on oak densities compared to unburned plots, but increased red maple densities. The analysis of the results suggests that with fire, oaks cannot compete with shade tolerant species.
Katherine Abell, MSU senior from Madison, Alabama, discovered learning and service principles through her undergraduate research project.
Leslie Burger, Extension instructor and Abe's mentor, serves as co-director of the Youth Environment Science, or YES! Program, a partnership between MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center, MSU Extension Service, Mississippi University for Women, and Starkville School District. The program, which launched during the 2011- 2012 academic year, immerses fourth and fifth graders in five consecutive days of natural resource-based science curriculum.
Abe's research studied the environmental attitudes of the program's past participants to see how effective youth conservation programs are for building environmental literacy and stewards. Abell surveyed the students' attitudes about the environment using an NEP survey.
The surveys assigned an overall value called a New Ecological Paradigm, or NEP, score to sixth graders to determine their environmental attitudes one to two years after participating in the program. While attitudes stayed about the same one year following completion, significant declines were detected two years after the conclusion of the program.
Additionally, kids who attended the program for two years demonstrated more environmentally positive attitudes than those who only attended for one year. These results suggest positive gains from the program; however, in the absence of reinforcement, it appears that these gains diminish over time.
Abell presented at the Southeast Natural Resources Graduate Student Symposium as one of a handful of undergraduate students. Additionally, she placed first in the community engagement and social sciences categories at MSU's Undergraduate Research Symposium.
Fighting Termites in TimberKelly Magee is a freshman in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts. Magee is helping develop test methods for evaluating two wood-based products: cross-laminated timber and particleboard created with a novel cottonseed protein adhesive and a plant-based termiticide. Cross-laminated timber panels are used in construction for modular buildings in Europe and Canada, but are not widely used in the U.S. Particleboard is widely used in the U.S. and abroad. The industry is currently focused on developing bonding materials and insecticides that are non-hazardous to humans. Magee will determine if changes made in the standard protocols are effective in testing these novel products. Magee is under the direction of Dr. C. Elizabeth Stokes, assistant professor in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts.
Improving growth and yield estimates from growth index ratio method of stand table projection in red oak-sweetgum bottomland hardwood standsForestry senior Leah Leonard, investigated how well Stand Table
Projection (STP) methods of forest growth and yield prediction performed in red
oak-sweetgum bottomland hardwoods stands. Data used in the project were
collected from 1981-2005. Two approaches of STP were investigated: the traditional
STP on diameter classes and an alternative approach of implementing STP on
individual trees. STP was implemented under assumption that tree survival was
predicted without error and also under survival prediction system that contained
error (a mortality model). Under the assumption that tree survival was predicted without error, STP was generally unbiased for stands in the age range 35-70 years but over predicted yields and stumpage value for stands below 35 years and under predicted yield in stands older than 70 years. When tree survival was predicted with error (using a mortality model), STP generally over predicted yields and stumpage value across all ages. Comparing traditional STP to STP on individual trees, there was no clear advantage of carrying out STP on individual trees.
Evaluating the effectiveness of prescribed fire to restore longleaf pine ecosystems in the southeastern coastal lain This study aims to explore the relationship between prescribed fire and the resulting understory composition on a local scale; specifically, Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) establishment and spread following a prescribed burn. Chinese tallow is known to aggressively invade favorable sites adjacent to bodies of water and roadways, as well as newly disturbed sites that are common after a prescribed burn. A better understanding of Chinese tallow invasion after a prescribed burn will help establish better ecological management strategies and prescribed burn plans for the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystem.
The study area is located on the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. This area is located in the Southeastern coastal plain and is predominantly composed of pine savannas, swamps, and wetlands. The total area is approximately 20,000 acres; the majority of the area consists of pine flatwoods and pine savanna. Prescribed burn regimes are on a 2, 3-4, and =5 year rotation to mimic the historic 3-5 year interval and over 800 prescribed burns and 200 wildfires have since occurred on the refuge.
Study plots were randomly selected on the refuge according to varying fire intervals and number of years post-fire. On each study plot, importance value, basal area, diameter at breast height, and height of overstory species present were sampled using a tenth acre fixed radius plot. A survey of herbaceous cover and species type was also sampled. This data will be used to understand how rates of Chinese tallow invasion differs according to fire interval and will help determine ideal fire intervals to reduce invasion of Chinese tallow and increase native species establishment.
The Influence of Canopy-Mediated Hydrologic Fluxes and Understory Microclimate on Soil Properties
Precipitation as a vital component of nutrient in forest ecosystems passes through the forest canopy as throughfall. Garrigues assessed the temporal variation in throughfall during the winter season, measuring soil nutrient composition and respiration, and determining the relationship between throughfall and soil properties. Her results determined that throughfall partitioning as a percentage of total precipitation increased exponentially with increased rainfall. She attributed this trend to the canopy saturation and intensity of rainfall. Throughfall remains low until saturation occurs, which happens during heavy or long rainfall events. She also found that the litter layer contained 31.5 percent carbon, which is likely due to nutrients stored within pine needles and hardwood leaves. She noted carbon content decreased markedly with the soil horizon. She determined that nitrogen levels were relatively low and also decreased with depth in the horizon. She noted that soil respiration decreased in the winter season when the temperature was lower. Dr. Courtney Siegert, assistant professor the Department of Forestry in the College and Forest Resources and researcher in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center; Dr. John Riggins, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Dr. Natalie Clay, postdoctoral research associate also in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, helped facilitate and assist with Garrigues' research.
Assessing Water Quality of Catalpa Creek WatershedRicks Burton is a junior in the Department of Forestry. He is studying water quality in the Catalpa Creek Watershed. The headwaters of the creek begin on the main campus of Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. The research will help inform the effectiveness of recent best management practices set in place by MSU and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The best practices are intended to mitigate the contributions by MSU to identified water quality issues within the watershed. The data collected will be included in a watershed management plan, will be presented at professional meetings, and will used in the preparation of peer-reviewed publications. Burton will be mentored by Dr. Courtney Siegert, assistant professor in the Department of Forestry.
Growth Analysis of Oak Trees in Bottomland Hardwood Restoration Plantings in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley
Leite, a recent forestry graduate, was an undergraduate research scholar in the College of Forest Resources in 2014. Leite studied oak trees in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Once the largest bottomland forest in the U.S., the LMAV takes up just 25 percent of its original land cover. Forest restoration in the LMAV has been implemented over the past several decades to restore forest cover for the enhancement of wildlife habitat, soil conversation, and water quality. Leite studied tree growth rates and created a stem profile model for oak trees ranging in age from 8 to 20 years located in afforestation stands. He expected the study to increase knowledge of oak growth and yield for afforestation stands in the LMAV. The information will be important to developing management approaches for afforestation stands, particularly as they mature. Dr. Brent Frey, assistant professor in the Department of Forestry in the College of Forest Resources and researcher in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center, served as Leite's advisor. Forestry graduate student, Jonathon Stoll, served on the project as well.
Viability of CavitiesSamantha Rushing, wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture major, studied the key characteristics of cavity trees most important to bats and what actions should be taken to increase cavity tree numbers and preserve these habitat features. Using field surveys, information on physical characteristics of known cavity trees were collected and compared to information collected on the same cavity trees 10-13 years ago. The research found that occupancy of cavity trees by bats is highly dependent on the size of the tree, but not all trees with basal cavities likely support bats. Bats were found in larger diameter trees with larger cavity area, those promoting stable microclimates through thicker cavity walls. The likelihood that trees survived to a size large enough to support these cavities is relative high (likelihood of tree remaining through the period between surveys was 86%). Therefore, preservation strategies should be put in place to allow for cavity trees to grow to a suitable size, thus increasing availability of these trees to bats.
Savanna Summers, MSU sophomore from Senoia, Georgia, spent her winter break setting bobcat hair snares and camera traps in the blistering cold of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The field work provided critical insight into Summers' undergraduate research project studying the variation of habitat selection by bobcats in this region.
The basis of her project came from data collected by Jerry Belant, associate professor of wildlife ecology and management in the university's Forest and Wildlife Research Center. Belant and research associate, Florent Bled, were Summers' mentors.
Summers analyzed data collected from December 2012 to March 2013 from a motion-sensitive camera survey of 64 sites in an area approximately 150 square miles. Summers looked at the number of bobcats in the region in relation to prey, land cover, and roads. She analyzed both daily and seasonal data. She evaluated individual cells and clusters of cells called neighborhood sites. The results showed more roads at the neighborhood level meant more bobcats. Also, prey did not strongly influence the number of bobcats.
Findings from this research will serve to inform those involved in species management. For example, results thus far suggest that human activities that occur along roads, such as timber harvest, might influence the number of bobcats in the area. Also, potentially greater prey abundance at some sites does not mean that this prey is more available to bobcats.
Summers recently shared her results at the annual meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists and is working on a manuscript to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.
Investigating the link between stress, temperature, and metabolic inertia in largemouth bass Goal.—To relate temperature change and handling stress to metabolic inertia in largemouth bass.
Objectives.— To measure standard metabolic rate in largemouth bass acclimated to two temperatures, to measure metabolic rate and time required to return metabolic rate following an abrupt decrease of 4°C, and to measure metabolic rate and time required to stabilize metabolic rate after initiating standard handling stress to induce a stress response.
Current Progress.— In order to meet these objectives, a literature review has been done to determine what information is currently known linking stress, temperature, and metabolic rate in largemouth bass, the centrarchid family of fishes, and teleost fishes in general.
Expected Outcomes.— As seen in previous studies, metabolic rate will stabilize at the four hour mark after a stress response when fishes are acclimatized to 25?C. Metabolic rate is expected to stabilize faster after the temperature drop as largemouth bass and teleost fishes in general recover best at lower temperatures.
Do nest size and shape characteristics affect nest parasitism rates?
The survival strategy of obligate brood parasitic birds like the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) is to lay their eggs in nests of host species and therefore avoid most of the reproductive costs required for raising chicks. Costs transferred to host species include the energy normally required to defend nests, incubate eggs and feed young. Hosts also incur possible reduced hatchling growth due to competition with parasite offspring, eviction of host eggs by earlier hatching parasite chicks, and an increased risk of nest abandonment (Kilner 2005, Servedio and Hauber 2006). To deceive hosts, parasites often choose a host whose eggs they can mimic to ensure a successful incubation without detection (Davies 2000). Not only do cowbirds and other brood parasites synchronize their laying to match the laying time of the host species to further diminish the risk of egg detection, brood parasitic eggs typically have thicker shells than host eggs (Mermoz and Reboreda 1999, Weatherhead 1991).
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A Typology of Mississippi Licensed Furbearer TrappersThere is a need to attract more people into trapping in order to help mitigate animal-induced damage to flora and fauna. Teresa B. Hill, a senior in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, is studying participation in furbearer trapping programs implemented to manage human-wildlife conflicts. She is trying to determine if trapper population is a homogenous group or if there is heterogeneity in order to assist management agencies in developing strategies to attract/retain participants in trapping. Her undergraduate research advisor is Kevin Hunt, professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture and researcher in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center.
A Mississippi State University undergraduate student and research scholar has been awarded the prestigious Harold Weaver Undergraduate Student Excellence Award for his research on the flammability of hardwood forests.
Senior forestry major Zach Senneff, a resident of Caledonia, Mississippi, received the honor from the Association of Fire Ecology at the Large Wildland Fires Conference in Missoula, Montana.
Senneff investigated the flammability of leaf litter from 10 hardwood species common to the eastern U.S. The objective of his research was to determine which leaves encouraged fire and which hampered fire. In fire-prone ecosystems, flammable leaf litter kills competing trees.
Morgan Varner, fire ecologist and assistant professor in the university's Forest and Wildlife Research Center directed Senneff's research.
"Zach's research is important when considering restoration of eastern forest ecosystems," Varner said. "Trees that have low flammability characteristics may not be adapted to survive in fire-prone ecosystems."
Fire is an important management tool and many wildlife species are dependent on the habitat created by prescribed fire, Varner added.
Senneff, who is currently working as a summer intern with Weyerhaeuser, said the undergraduate research program helped him develop a new way of thinking about problems and potential issues that may arise.
"My undergraduate research project helped me develop new skills in problem solving and communication," Senneff said. "These skills have helped me both in the classroom as well as in my job."
The Harold Weaver Undergraduate Student Excellence Award is granted to a single student each year from a pool of students across the globe pursuing research in fire ecology. It is named for Harold Weaver, a pioneer in the field of fire ecology and ecosystem management.
The Undergraduate Research Scholar Program is a new endeavor at Mississippi State University. Senneff's research was sponsored by the university's College of Forest Resources and the Forest and Wildlife Research Center.