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    June 2004




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    Research Projects

    Current Research Projects

    Current research is focused on the role that diversity plays in providing ecological functions, understanding the dynamics and structure of channel catfish in Nebraska reservoirs, invasive species risk assessments and distribution modeling, the Nebraska Landowner Incentives Program, the occurrence of amphibians in Nebraska Rainwater Basin wetlands, documenting predator fish control on white perch populations, understanding how resilience is generated in ecological systems, assessing the value of grassland habitats songbird production in three national parks, understanding river otter home range and habitat, and the recruitment of walleye and white bass in irrigation reservoirs .

    Scroll down through the page or click on one of the following links:

    1. Amphibian Occupancy, Functional Connectivity, and Resilience of Rainwater Basin Wetlands
    2. Angler Behavior in Response to Management Actions on Nebraska Reservoirs - Part II
    3. Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Prevention Program
    4. Bat Movements Across Transforming Landscapes
    5. Better Soil for Birds
    6. Bioenergetics and Habitat Suitability Models for the Chinese Mystery Snail (Bellamya Chinensis)
    7. Canid Distribution and the Potential Impacts of Energy Development in Nebraska
    8. Climatic Constraints on Bobwhite Quail Populations Along their Northern Extent
    9. Developing a Network for Invasive Species Outreach and Monitoring in Nebraska
    10. Dynamics of Resilience in Complex Adaptive Systems
    11. Ecological Applications of Time-Lapse Photography
    12. Ecological Models and Biodiversity Conservation in Nebraska Landscapes
    13. Evaluating the Benefits of Higher Diversity CRP Plantings for At-Risk Species
    14. Evaluating the Value and Efficacy of Agricultural Conservation Programs for Landowners and Conservation Practitioners
    15. Fremont State Lakes Renovation Study: The Effects of Alum Application and Fishery Renovation on Water Quality
    16. Generation of Novelty in Complex Systems
    17. Geographic Distribution and Occupancy of Otters in Nebraska
    18. Global Change, Vulnerability and Resilience: Management Options for an Uncertain Future
    19. Implications of Hunter Harvest and Wildlife-Friendly Agricultural Practices on Pheasant Behavior and Population Dynamics
    20. Incorporating Soil Ecological Knowlege into Management of CRP Lands
    21. Local and Landscape Constraints on Habitat Management for Upland Birds
    22. Making Adaptive Management Meaningful: Translating Science Learning into Policy Decision-Making
    23. Management Induced Shifts in Pheasant Reproductive Strategies
    24. Merging Social and Ecological Network Models
    25. Monitoring, Mapping, Risk Assessment, and Mangement of Invasive Species in Nebraska
    26. Pollinator Assemblages in Southeast Prairies and Sandstone Prairies Biologically Unique Landscapes
    27. Population Assessments of Temperate Basses in Nebraska Reservoirs
    28. Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Science
    29. Range and Habitat Preferences of Northern Long-Eared Bats in Nebraska
    30. Resilience Thinking and Structured Decision Making in Social-Ecological Systems
    31. Stopover Decisions of Migratory Shorebirds: An Assessment of Habitat, Food, Behavior and Phenology
    32. Testing For the Presence of the Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium Dendrobatidis) in Amphibian Populations Across Nebraska
    33. Testing the Functional Resilience of High and Low-diversity Prairie Communities to Paired Disturbance
    34. Understanding and Managing for Resilience in the Face of Global Change
    35. Use and Satisfaction of Public Hunting Opportunities
    36. Wetland Condition Assessment
    37. Wind and Wildlife Project
    38. Woody Plant Management in the Niobrara River Valley
    examining fish

    Completed Research Projects


    Nebraska Cooperative has several research projects that have been completed. Click Here to read those completed projects.

    Current Research Projects

    Amphibian Occupancy, Functional Connectivity, and Resilience of Rainwater Basin Wetlands

    GOALS: This project seeks to assess how agricultural land-use may affect resilience of a large wetland complex.

    Both the quantity and overall quality of wetlands have severely declined globally. Many remaining wetlands exist in landscapes dominated by agricultural production. The Rainwater Basin is a region of Nebraska characterized by shallow wetlands located in an agricultural matrix. Following European settlement in the mid-to-late 19th century, more than 90% of historic wetlands in the Rainwater Basin were filled or farmed through. The remaining wetlands exist in an intensive agricultural matrix that has further isolated wetlands and may affect their function, and reduce the resilience of the Rainwater Basin.

    For the Nebraska Rainwater Basin, we are interested in the resilience of the functional connectivity among wetlands for amphibian species. Amphibians are an important taxonomic group that provide services by controlling insects, serving as food for migratory birds and other species, and integrating terrestrial and aquatic systems. Amphibians are sensitive to environmental contaminants and can be used as an indicator of water quality, system health, and resilience. Occupancy of amphibians, functional connectivity of remaining wetlands, and acute and chronic effects to amphibians from commonly applied agrichemicals will be investigated. Volunteers from the Unit, the University of Nebraska, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and various other organizations performed roadside amphibian call surveys at 125 wetlands in the Rainwater Basin. Additionally, water contaminant samples continue to be collected and analyzed for a suite of agricultural contaminants. Concentrations of contaminants found in the Rainwater Basin will be replicated in laboratory conditions to assess toxicity to larval amphibians.


    FUNDING: National Science Foundation IGERT Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

    PROJECT PI: Craig Allen,NE CFWRU, Dan Snow

    Private wetland in agricultrail field in the Rainwater Basin in May, flooded with rainfall. (courtesy Michelle Hellman)

    (Left) Private wetland in an agricultural field in the Rainwater Basin in May (flooded with rainfall) (Right) The same wetland in July. Wetland has contracted and surrounding land has been planted.




    Angler Behavior in Response to Management Actions on Nebraska Reservoirs - Part II

    Recreational angling, a billion-dollar industry, is the most influential factor structuring fish populations in inland systems. Given its importance and the reliance in North America on sportspersons to fund conservation activities (i.e., the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation), natural resource agencies invest substantial resources to recruit and retain anglers. However, there is little understanding of the motivations to participate in angling activities or the influence of management actions on that angler participation. Scientists know little about the spatial and temporal patterns of participation by anglers. Further, little is known about the non-consumptive responses of fish populations to angling such as changes in behavior that affect vulnerability to angling. A greater understanding of the positive and negative feedbacks between angling participation and responses of fish populations to angling are needed to understand and properly manage recreational angling.

    GOALS: To understand: 1) the participation patterns of anglers on multiple spatial and temporal scales; 2) how participation patterns of anglers influence fish populations and associated communities; 3) how management actions influence angler participation patterns and, in turn, fish communities; and 4) interactions and feedback mechanisms between and among angler groups and fish communities.

    CURRENT STATUS: The project currently has six study components:

    1. Statewide Angler Survey. Anglers are being interviewed at Branched Oak Lake, Calamus Reservoir, Harlan County Reservoir, Lake McConaughy, Merritt Reservoir, Pawnee Reservoir, and Sherman Reservoir from April through October, 2014–2018. These interviews add to long-term (>10–20 years) data sets that are valuable for assessment of temporal changes in angler participation. In particular, these extended data sets will allow for relational assessments of changes in angling participation with environmental conditions and management actions on large-scales.

    2. Individual-Based Model Describes Behavioral Feedbacks between Anglers and Sportfish. Behavioral feedbacks between anglers and sportfish are widely recognized to be important in the management of sustainable and economically viable recreational fisheries. Quantifying these feedbacks empirically is difficult. Individual-based modeling has proven to be a powerful tool for assessing ecological processes that are difficult to quantify empirically. We used this computational-modeling form to simulate various assumptions associated with fishery-induced behavioral changes within an exploited fish population. We parameterized the angler agents using creel survey data from a new reservoir in Eastern Nebraska. These simulations result in robust-emergent relationships, over many model iterations, between empirically represented anglers and hypothetical sportfish. This provides a theoretical framework for in situ assessments of behavioral feedbacks between anglers and sportfish.

    3. Using Naïve Systems to Identify How Angling Influences Fish Populations. Catchability of sportfish can be negatively affected by repeated capture with catch-and-release angling, which is potentially a result of learned hook avoidance. The opening of two new reservoirs in eastern Nebraska to angling provided a unique opportunity to assess this relationship. Lake Wanahoo and Prairie Queen Lake were stocked and allowed to develop without angling for several years prior to opening. Thus, we assumed that fish were naïve to angling. We hypothesized that learned hook avoidance would be more prevalent in release-oriented than harvest-oriented fish populations, resulting in a more rapid decline of angler catch per unit effort (CPUE) for release-oriented species. Creel surveys were employed through the first 30 days of angling at each location, and were used to estimate angler catch, harvest, and effort. We observed a marked decrease in the CPUE of release-oriented species, but we did not observe declines in CPUE for harvest-oriented fish. This may suggest that individuals developed learned behavior to avoid recapture and has strong implications for efficacy of management regulations and angler satisfaction.

    4. Quantifying the Effect of Fish Personality on Fishing-induced Learning. Fish populations display reduced catchability over time in catch-and-release fisheries, suggesting that individual fish have the ability to learn to avoid capture. We will investigate whether learning occurs and the potential influence an individual fish’s personality has on its ability to learn. Behavioral tests will be conducted in a laboratory to determine where an individual falls along a boldness continuum, and repeated fishing trials will determine if certain fish personality types are better able to learn to avoid a lure. If personality dictates learning, angling may select for a particular type of individual, leading to homogenous populations of fish that become “informed” about angling and develop low vulnerability to capture.

    5. Spatial Distribution of Angler Parties. The outcomes of interactions between anglers and fish are a function of decisions made by the predator (anglers) and the prey (fish). Anglers must decide where to fish within a waterbody, yet most assessments of fisheries via angler surveys provide only whole-waterbody estimates of angler pressure. Angler distribution within a waterbody is not uniform, and if anglers are not randomly distributed, then anglers are selecting for factors within a waterbody. We will describe the distribution of anglers within six Salt Valley reservoirs across an open-water season and elucidate the physical landscape features that predict their distribution. Anglers of different typologies may select for different landscape features, but these typologies of anglers and their preferences for landscape features are unknown. We seek to describe these typologies through online surveys and predict the intra-waterbody distribution of anglers with different typologies. We are also developing alternative techniques to assess the spatial distribution of anglers with stationary cameras and image analysis software. Use of stationary cameras and associated image processing may allow for an increase in the number of reservoirs surveyed. Information gained by this research should improve precision for estimates of angling effort and catch in spatially complex fisheries and provide managers with information on how changes in infrastructure will alter angler distribution.

    6. Length-based Economic Assessment of Sportfish. Recreational fisheries are a unique industrial component to Nebraska’s economy. Though they do not produce a directly valued product of traditional economics, they do provide utility to recreational anglers through social capital or enjoyment. In seeking this social capital, anglers create demand for secondary industries (e.g., tackle, media, and travel accommodations). Thus, these secondary industries are a direct result of the quality of Nebraska’s aquatic resources. As such, accounting for these economic gains within any resource assessment provides a more accurate value of the resource itself.

    Quantifying this valuation requires assessment of individual angler willingness-to-pay to capture a fish and for each successive capture. Willingness-to-pay is most commonly quantified through classic cost-benefit analyses. We will use contingent valuation methods to quantify anglers’ stated willingness-to-pay values. This willingness-to-pay variable can then be used to set a monetary value for the capture of a fish.

    We recognize that anglers derive social capital differently from the captures of trophy and non-trophy fish. Thus, we should expect that an angler’s willingness-to-pay for a large fish is substantially greater than the willingness-to-pay for a small fish. To properly include this in our assessment, we will use a length-based framework. Thus, this assessment will provide a length-specific estimate of the value of captured sportfish in Nebraska. Additionally, it will develop an improved census of the typologies and goals associated with Nebraska’s modern angling population.

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANTS: Nicholas Cole, Ph.D., Alexis Fedele, M.S., Brian Harmon, M.S.

    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Kevin Pope, NE CFWRU, Christopher J. Chizinski, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

    WEBSITE: FishHunt.unl.edu


    Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Prevention Program

    The Nebraska Invasive Species Program (NISP) continues to administer a multi-institutional Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program funded with grant funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

    GOALS :
    1. Decrease the risk of aquatic invasive species introduction into Nebraska by implementing a boat inspection and decontamination program;
    2. Increase public awareness of aquatic invasive species through an integrated outreach/education program;
    3. Continue aquatic invasive species monitoring to help focus prevention efforts; and
    4. Increase local and regional collaboration in the prevention of aquatic invasive species.

    CURRENT STATUS: The NISP has conducted boater surveys each summer since 2012 at high-risk waterbodies throughout Nebraska to gauge public awareness of invasive species, track where boaters are coming from and going to, and tConducting a boater survey (photo courtesy: Allison Zach)o educate boaters on aquatic invasive species prevention. In 2014, surveys were collected using new survey software, and tablets were used by technicians administering the boater surveys. The new software allows technicians to collect boater surveys when outside of Wi-Fi range. Then once back in Wi-Fi range, the technicians sync the tablets, and the survey data is uploaded to a remote server. The program coordinator had access to the remote server and could analyze data on a daily basis to view trends, and to make adjustments to survey schedules if necessary. In the past, surveys were conducted using paper; data was later entered into an Access database during the fall. This didn’t allow data analysis to be conducted until the winter following the field season. The new survey software has proven valuable for providing real time results and for looking at specific trends in boater surveys. In the fall of 2015, results of the 2012–2014 boater surveys will be presented at regional and national meetings. Results show that outreach efforts have been successful in educating people to Clean, Drain and Dry watercrafts to prevent the spread of invasive species.

    Below is a comparison of survey results collected between 2012-2014 boater surveys.

    Total boater surveys completed
    Boaters that inspected their watercraft
    Removed vegetation from watercraft


    PROJECT COORDINATOR(S) : Karie Decker (7/2009 - 11/2012), Rodney Verhoeff (4/2013 - 7/2013) Allison Zach (9/2013 - present)

    FUNDING: Nebraska Environmental Trust, USFWS Aquatic Nuisance Species Taskforce, Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District

    PROJECT PI: Craig R Allen, NE CFWRU

    Bat Movements Across Transforming Landscapes

    GOALS: Through the deployment of ultrasonic acoustic detectors for two years, we plan to identify when and where bats are moving in eastern Nebraska throughout the year. Information gathered will be used to further promote Bat caught by a mist net (courtesy Mandy Lipinski)sound resource management practices, especially by informing new wind energy facilities of high risk areas and help all facilities identify times of greatest threats to bats.

    CURRENT STATUS: Bats provide critical ecosystem services across the globe. In the U.S. Midwest, these services are primarily in the form of insect consumption. Decreased bat populations could result in the need for additional pesticides and other insect control measures in states dominated by agriculture, such as Nebraska. These additional pest control costs are estimated to be about $2.9 billion, or $74 per acre. Preserving bat populations is important for both the ecosystem and the humans who rely on the services they provide.

    Unfortunately, the cumulative impacts of opportunistic wind energy development could have unanticipated, negative consequences in Nebraska and around the nation. Already, wind turbines kill an estimated 800,000 bats every year. As the energy sector positions itself to harness Nebraska’s vast wind resources, we must consider and minimize the unintended consequences to Nebraska agriculture. Potential negative impacts of wind energy development on bats can be minimized through siting and operations that consider bat presence, activity, and movement. By studying bat migratory patterns in Nebraska we will help utility companies, wind energy developers, and facility owners avoid, manage, and mitigate the effects of new and existing wind energy facilities.

    We will use bat detectors to identify when and where bats are moving in eastern Nebraska throughout the year. These detectors record the ultrasonic acoustic signals bats use to navigate and allow us to determine the species present and activity levels at recording locations. Currently, 20 bat detectors are placed approximately every 10 miles from Leigh east to Blair and south to Seward and Nebraska City, primarily on silos and grain bins graciously opened to us by private citizens. We have collected more than 234,000 bat calls during 336 days of sampling. This data will help us identify the when and where bats migrate and provide insight into why/how bats choose their migration routes.

    Michael Whitby with batGRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Michael Whitby, Ph.D.

    FUNDING:Nebraska Environmental Trust, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU, Caroline Jezierski, NE CFWRU

    WEBSITE: http://snr.unl.edu/renewableenergy/wind/researchbat.asp


    Better Soil for Birds

    1. To create an understanding of how the ecosystem responds to four common MCM strategies, including soil, plant, insect, and bird attributes; andUpland sandpiper in the Lynch area (photo courtesy Hannah Birge)
    2. To create relevant information to provide to private landowners, land managers, and federal and state personnel in an effort to promote informed management decisions by:
    a. Balancing various management objectives and costs, and
    b. Providing a structured, iterative learning process to inform future management activities.

    This project investigates how disturbance is used as a tool by managers to improve the quality of grasslands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. To achieve this aim, we are tracking 1) soil, 2) plant, 3) pollinator, and 4) ground-dwelling macroinvertebrates response to the disturbances used by managers that serve as stand-ins for historical disturbance. These manager-applied disturbances are part of Conservation Reserve Program mid-contract management (MCM) and typically include burning, disking, interseeding, herbicide, or some combination thereof.

    The decision to use one or many of these approaches to fulfill MCM obligations requires landowners to weigh various economic, ecological, and social tradeoffs. By combining the ecological knowledge gained from our field investigation with knowledge generated from a statewide landowner survey, this work seeks to provide valuable information to private landowners, agency personnel and scientists interested in supporting smart land management decision-making.


    FUNDING: National Science Foundation IGERT Program, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU

    Bioenergetics and Habitat Suitability Models for the Chinese Mystery Snail (Bellamya Chinensis)

    Aquatic invasive species continue to spread throughout the United States at an alarming rate and Nebraska is no exception. Maintaining ecosystem functions is a key component to preserving system resilience, but more information on how these functions are altered by specific invasive species is necessary. Chinese Mystery snails (courtesy: Valerie Egger)

    GOALS:This research attempted to help clarify some of the mystery for the Chinese mystery snail, a species we knew very little about at the onset of the study. We investigated the specie’s ecology in laboratory experiments and assessed variables in the field that may be used to predict the species’ distribution.

    The Chinese mystery snail (Bellamya chinensis) is an invasive freshwater snail already established in Nebraska, yet little is known about this species life-history traits and ecology or how it influences an ecosystem after invasion. Similar to other mollusk species, Chinese mystery snail populations commonly reach high densities shortly after establishment. We developed a bioenergetics model for the species by quantifying and comparing consumption, egestion, respiration, and production of the Chinese mystery snail at different water temperatures. As expected, temperature affects growth and reproductive strategies of this species. We also analyzed a specific case study to identify physical, chemical, and biological lake characteristics that help predict where the Chinese mystery snail is found. The presence of Chinese mystery snail is correlated with water clarity, latitude, and the presence of other aquatic invasive species.

    FUNDING: National Science Foundation IGERT Program, University of Nebraska Presidential Fellowship, University Of Nebraska-Lincoln

    PROJECT PI: Kevin L Pope, NE CFWRU; Valery Forbes, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

    Canid Distribution and the Potential Impacts of Energy Development in NebraskaLucia Corral setting a camera trap ( Photo courtesy of Adela Annis)

    Increasing conversion of grasslands throughout the Great Plains has led to significant declines in the distribution and abundance of a variety of grassland obligate species and associated increases in habitat generalists. For example, the distribution and likely densities of generalist carnivores, including coyote (Canis latrans) and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) have increased throughout much of North America, while the closely related grassland obligate, swift fox (V. velox) has and continues to undergo significant declines. In Nebraska, swift fox currently occupy only 21% of their historical range, while coyotes have increased both in numbers and range throughout the state. Clearly generalists such as coyotes are capable of thriving in highly altered human landscapes, thus it is not surprising that their distribution has increased. What is less clear is why swift fox fail to occupy the 42% of Nebraska that continues to contain seemingly high quality swift fox habitat.

    As the largest canid in Nebraska, coyotes are dominant to swift fox and are often cited as an important source of mortality for swift fox populations. As such, increases in the abundance and distribution of coyotes following the development of the Great Plains may have inadvertently restricted the range of swift fox despite the availability of suitable habitats. With increasing interest in developing infrastructure in the shortgrass prairie for gas, oil and wind energy resources, there is a clear need to identify the mechanism limiting the distribution of grassland obligate species such as swift fox, and how anthropogenic change is likely to alter important ecological relationships.

    GOALS: The project goal is to understand how habitat structure, landscape attributes, and behavioral intraguild interactions, across multiple spatial and temporal scales, affect habitat use and geographic distribution of Nebraska’s canids species and how energy development may alter these relationships.

    Swift fox caught on a trail camera in Western NebraskaCURRENT STATUS:We are working to identify the ecological mechanisms shaping the distribution of canid communities across Nebraska by developing and testing a series of species distribution models based on the habitat requirements and intraguild interactions between coyote and swift fox.

    Starting in the spring of 2014, we began surveying for canids across 26,000 square miles of western Nebraska using baited camera traps. With the help of 129 private landowners, we were able to deploy cameras at 908 survey sites, for over 16,650 trap nights resulting in nearly 4.5 million photos. Over the next several years, we will continue surveying for canids in the spring and fall, working to develop a baseline model for canid species distribution in Nebraska. 


    FUNDING:, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Department of Roads

    PROJECT PI: Joseph (T.J.) Fontaine, NE CFWRU, Larkin Powell, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Teresa Frink, Chadron State College

    Fact sheet handout





    Click Here to read the fact sheet on this project


    Climatic Constraints on Bobwhite Quail Populations Along Their Northern ExtentBobwhite quail (courtesy Dave Menke, USFWS)

    Northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) are among the most popular game birds in North America; however, the loss of suitable habitat has led to precipitous population declines throughout their range. With significant grassland and farmland habitats, Nebraska has the potential to maintain viable quail populations, but due to the climatic conditions imposed by harsh winters and periodic wet springs, quail populations in Nebraska tend to be highly variable from year to year. Local habitat management may be capable of overcoming some environmental constraints, but effective management strategies necessitate a comprehensive understanding of the impacts of large scale climatic conditions on Nebraska’s quail resources.
    Although there are numerous studies focused on water constraints for quail populations in arid environments, the role of climatic conditions in driving quail populations in traditional temperate environments remains limited with much of the research conducted when the landscape was more conducive to facilitating population rebounds after severe weather events. Given the current agricultural paradigm, and predicted changes in climatic conditions, it remains unknown whether effective management implementation can lead to reliable quail populations and facilitate long-term stability in hunter engagement, satisfaction, and participation. In a first step to addressing this issue, we propose to identify the mechanism by which climatic conditions impact quail and the means by which management may overcome climatic constraints.

    GOALS: To improve our understanding of how severe climatic events (e.g., snow storms, spring rains) alter quail physiology and behavioral decisions to impact population stability in Nebraska and to further develop management strategies aimed at offsetting these costs. Utilizing an individualistic approach that considers the inherent trade-offs in life history, physiological, and behavioral expression, we hope to identify key constrains in population growth and management strategies that many ameliorate population cycles.

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Amanda Lipinski, Ph.D., Victoria Simonsen, M.S.

    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU, Gwen Bachman, University of Nebraska–Lincoln


    Developing a Network for Invasive Species Outreach and Monitoring in Nebraska

    The Nebraska Invasive Species Program (NISP) administers a multi-institutional Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program with grant funding from the USFWS and Nebraska Environmental Trust.

    .• Decrease the risk of invasive species introduction and spread through volunteer training workshops, and by targeted messaging across multiple user groups;
    • Develop and implement a “next generation” invasive species education strategy;
    • Evaluate the effectiveness of outreach in invasive species prevention through focused inventory and monitoring as well as through surveys designed to assess awareness;
    • Increase local and regional collaboration in the prevention and control of invasive species.

    Youth created masks of invasive insects (courtesy Baillie Luff)CURRENT STATUS:Brochures were created and distributed to public and agency staff to promote the Nebraska Invasive Species Program and to educate people on invasive species in Nebraska. Advertisements for Clean, Drain and Dry and don’t move firewood were included in Nebraska Game and Parks (NGPC) fishing and hunting guides. Advertisements were placed in community news journals and other NGPC publications in 2015. The program’s website was further developed and will now include educational materials for teachers and outdoor educators (neinvasives.com).

    Technicians located throughout Nebraska in 2014 and 2015 conducted boater surveys and participated in outreach events. The technicians also gave presentations at outreach events and to agency staff.

    Curriculum for 9–12 grades was developed in 2015, and will be advertised and made available to teachers in Nebraska. A collection of hands-on materials and teaching materials on invasive species is in development and will be made available to teachers upon request.

    The NISP coordinator organizes monthly meetings of the Nebraska Invasive Species Advisory Council (NISC). Members of the Council taught invasive species identification workshops in 2014 and 2015 to Master Naturalist program trainees. New invasive species identification guides were developed and disseminated at identification workshops and to agency staff.  

    COORDINATORS: Rodney Verhoeff (4/2013 - 7/2013), Allison Zach (9/2013 - present)

    FUNDING: Nebraska Environmental Trust

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU

    Dynamics of Resilience in Complex Adaptive Systems

    Ecosystems are a type of complex system, and as such share general rules of behavior with other types of complex adaptive systems. Research across a wide variety of disciplines has uncovered rules of system dynamics that address features of self-organization and emergence. Work in the field of ecology has proposed that resilience may be an emergent phenomenon of complex adaptive systems, and in particular, social-ecological systems. Resilience is the amount of disturbance a system can absorb or buffer while staying organized around the same key structures, processes, and functions. As our understanding of non-linear dynamics and complex systems has grown in recent years, the concept of resilience has exploded, and a great deal of work has been done to understand how resilience emerges and what system components and interactions comprise resilience.

    One of the key findings is summarized in the cross-scale resilience model, which proposes that the distribution of species and the functions they represent within and across the scales of an ecosystem plays a key role in system resilience. While most previous work has been explicitly focused on social-ecological systems, there is some tantalizing evidence to suggest that resilience and the cross-scale model may also be applicable to other types of complex adaptive systems, such as economics.

    In a more applied exploration of these ideas, the role of species abundance, coupled with their distribution of function, is an element of the cross-scale model that remains unexplored.

    1. Explore the discontinuity hypothesis and cross-scale model in greater detail at both ends of the research spectrum, building the theoretical foundations of the cross-scale model and thus its applicability to other complex adaptive systems, in order to expand our understanding of the cross-scale model to incorporate species’ abundances and potentially use it as a tool for resource managers to use for identifying impending regime shifts.
    2. Focus on improving our understanding of the relationship between cross-scale distributions, species abundance, and regime shifts at a system level.


    FUNDING: U.S. Geological Survey, Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis

    PROJECT PI: Craig Allen, NE CFWRU


    Ecological Applications of Time-Lapse Photography

    The Platte River Basin is one of the most significant river systems in the Great Plains and an internationally important wildlife resource. It demonstrates the complexity, over-appropriation, and importance of a human-dominated ecosystem that sustains many services including water supply for municipalities, agricultural irrigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat.

    GOALS: Tto connect environmental changes, documented by time-lapse imagery, with bioacoustic data and water quality measurements to further our understanding of ecological variability and communicate complex system changes to a public audience.

    CURRENT STATUS: Phenology, the timing of biological events and the causes of their timing, is an increasingly valuable component in understanding ecosystems. Our goal is to identify what environmental factors influence wildlife activity and other biological phenomena. We are utilizing bioacoustic recordings to determine the relative activity of bat, bird and frog species, and time-lapse imagery to quantitatively assess vegetation phenophase, a proxy for primary productivity and, therefore, resource availability. Preliminary findings suggest vegetation is an influential cue for migratory bat species.

    Freshwater systems are inherently complex, functioning at varying temporal and spatial scales. We installed passive sensors and collected water samples in the Platte River Basin to measure water quality variables, including nutrients and pesticides. Time-lapse image analysis was used to estimate water-inundation where hydrological information was not available. We assessed variables using a multivariate time-series modeling approach. Models captured temporal dynamics of water quality and revealed the difference in patterns between wetland and river channels.

    We are also developing educational tools through the synthesis of time-lapse imagery and data visualization. Videos, stories, and interactive graphics in a new media format will communicate the phenology, water quality dynamics, and importance of the Platte River Basin and our freshwater ecosystems.


    FUNDING: Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Michael Farrell, Michael Forsberg, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

    Time-lapse of Platter River



    Ecological Models and Biodiversity Conservation in Nebraska Landscapes

    Biodiversity is increasingly threatened by an array of stressors; therefore, sustainable means of satisfying growing human resource demands while protecting the environment and at-risk species must continue to be explored and implemented. The consideration of alternative, plausible futures for, and adaptive management of, social-ecological systems have been promoted for addressing present societal, environmental and ecological challenges; however, the application of these approaches has been met with varying degrees of success at different spatial and temporal scales. Learning from the past, adjusting current strategies according to new findings, and considering alternative plausible scenarios of the future could increase preparedness and improve management outcomes, despite uncertainties.

    GOALS: The Nebraska Natural Legacy Project is a state wildlife action plan that aims at accomplishing the following objectives:
    1. Reverse declines of at-risk species;
    2. Recover species currently listed as state or federally threatened or endangered;
    3. Keep common species common, and conserve natural communities.

    The plan identifies 39 Biologically Unique Landscape(s) (BUL) within Nebraska where conservation actions will be specifically targeted. A coarse filter/fine filter approach to conservation has been adopted in the plan, with the goal of benefiting the majority of species by managing at the community (coarse filter) level. Threatened species not encompassed by community-level management are then addressed specifically (fine filter).

    This project will develop distribution models for species and/or communities identified as conservation targets within Nebraska BULs, with the goal of integrating modeling into an adaptive management conservation framework for BUL management.

    Expected products for BULs include habitat suitability ranks, assessments of functional connectivity for suitable habitat patches, baseline community area and species abundance estimates, identification of locations for focusing additional sampling and monitoring efforts, predicted community distributions and species abundances under an array of plausible management-based scenarios, evaluation of progress toward accomplishing established conservation objectives, and identification of suitable locations for the reintroduction of extirpated target species. Modeling techniques will be utilized according to data availability and their propriety for addressing specific research questions. Within an iterative framework, conservation objectives, management actions, and modeling techniques may be altered as additional information supporting adjustments is obtained.


    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, National Science Foundation IGERT Program, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU



    Evaluating the Benefits of Higher Diversity CRP Plantings for At-Risk Species

    The Nebraska Legacy Plan lists grassland loss as one of the primary conservation threats in the state. The USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides incentives for farmers to take marginal lands out of crop production for a 10–15 year period, during which it is CRP Grasslandsfrequently planted to grasslands. Land enrolled in CRP covers more than a million acres in Nebraska, but it is planted to a wide range of seed mixes and little is known about how differences in plant diversity and composition may impact faunal biodiversity and conservation threats. This project compared high and low diversity CRP plantings to evaluate potential benefits for at-risk species, including habitat for butterflies, bees and birds, the exclusion of non-native species, and water infiltration. The data from this project may be useful for monitoring succession and the impacts of management techniques in future research. Overall, the effect of higher diversity CRP was either neutral or positive, with a few exceptions. The objectives and primary findings were as follows.

    1. Determine if higher diversity CRP plantings provide habitat and forage for at-risk grassland butterfly species. Higher diversity CRP planting mixes more often contained forage species for at-risk butterflies. CP38 was typically best suited for all species. The exception in all cases was the regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) since no planting lists contained the larval forage (violets).

    2. Determine benefits of planting diversity for native bees and at-risk grassland birds. Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) responded positively to forbs that were found only in pollinator CRP, but the effect of forb diversity on wild bees is likely to change over time as the pollinator plantings become better established. This may also influence at-risk bird species by enhancing nesting suitability and invertebrate forage in high diversity plantings. The eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna), was only counted in pollinator plots, for example.

    3. Determine if higher diversity plantings drive changes in soil health and impact the colonization of non-native species. Better infiltration rates were observed in the higher diversity pollinator plantings but may be an effect of disking, the weedy species on the plots, or both. Regardless, sufficient bulk density for desirable plant growth may only be maintained on these sandy soils with disking until the plots are better established. Similarly, although the pollinator plantings had a greater number of non-native species, this may be due to the stage of succession at which the study was done, with weedy species coming in before deeper-rooted native species. Limited spread of invasive species and non-native species may be more strongly linked to planting diversity as the pollinator plots become better established.

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Hannah Birgé, Ph.D., Bethany Teeters, Ph.D.

    FUNDING: National Science Foundation IGERT Program, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU




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    Evaluating the Value and Efficacy of Agricultural Conservation Programs for Landowners and Conservation Practitioners

    In Nebraska, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) enrollment peaked in 2007 at 1.3 million acres and by 2012 had declined by roughly 30% to 900,000 acres. At the current rate of loss, CRP could disappear from the Nebraska landscape by 2025. Although the complete loss of CRP is unlikely, dramatic reductions in the availability of CRP and changes in the distribution and land types covered in CRP are likely to have corresponding implications for the soil, water, and wildlife resources of Nebraska. While much of the decline in CRP enrollment is attributed to higher commodity prices—as corn acres over the same time period increased from 9.4 million to 9.9 million acres—the complexity of the CRP program and the associated changes in farm demographics and agricultural practices brings into question whether factors beyond economics may drive conservation attitudes in Nebraska’s farmers.

    Moreover, while conservation efforts have largely focused on reducing impacts through habitat restoration, it is becoming increasingly apparent that protectionist efforts are insufficient to ensure long-term socio-ecological resilience. Conservation approaches which are inclusive of human demands on ecosystem services and consider the potential for human dominated landscapes to provide for and maintain biodiversity while simultaneously providing for the food and fiber needs of society may provide an opportunity to strike a balance between socio-economic needs and socio-ecological impacts. However, this shift in paradigm necessitates innovative approaches that move beyond traditional conservation strategies. In either case, whether we are attempting to ensure the future of CRP or develop novel agricultural conservation programs, it is imperative that we understand the perceptions and values of the stakeholders involved.

    This project will work with conservation practitioners and landowners throughout the state of Nebraska to evaluate the perceptions and values of landowners, specifically:
    1. What are the perceptions and perceived values of the CRP program?
    2. What are the perceptions and perceived values of the alternative CRP practices and the associated management requirements and approaches?
    3. What are the limitations to participation in CRP by landowners?
    4. What are the limitations in the ability of conservation practitioners and natural resource agencies to promote CRP?
    5. What are alternative conservation strategies to CRP and the perceptions and perceived values surrounding the implementation of these alternatives?

    PROJECT COORDINATOR: Caitlyn Gillespie

    POST-DOC ASSOCIATE: Dustin Martin (2014)

    FUNDING:Nebraska Environmental Trust, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU


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    Fremont State Lakes Renovation Study: The Effects of Alum Application and Fishery Renovation on Water Quality

    The Fremont State Lake System (FLS) is made up of 20 sandpit lakes adjacent to the Platte River near Fremont, Nebraska and is used by 800,000 visitors annually. These lakes were created as early as the 1940s andmany are now experiencing water quality problems related to Private contractor applying alum treatment to Fremont Lakes (courtesy Brian Hammond)eutrophication. High nutrient concentrations in the water column are driven primarily by internal loading from nutrient-rich sediments accumulated through deposition of leaves fallen from trees, shoreline vegetation, fish excrement, and decaying remains of fish and aquatic vegetation. Eight of the lakes in the Fremont State Lakes are on Nebraska’s 2012 section 303(d) list of impaired waters with 30 different impairments. In the fall of 2012, 16 lakes were chemically treated (with aluminum sulfate, alum) to reduce nutrients available for phytoplankton growth. In addition, four lakes were also treated with rotenone for a fishery renovation, which subsequently included removing bottom-feeding species and restocking with a more desirable assemblage.

    Given the alterations to the chemical and biological structure of the lakes, the goal of this study is to understand how physical drivers (e.g., lake-basin structure) and biological drivers (e.g., fish community composition) interact to affect the longevity and effectiveness of alum additions for improving water quality. This will be addressed through three major tasks:

    GOALS: The goal of this study is to understand how physical drivers (e.g., lake-basin structure and groundwater flow) and biological drivers (e.g., fish community composition) interact to affect the longevity and effectiveness of alum additions for improving water quality. This will be addressed through three major tasks:

    1. Monitoring physical and chemical water quality
    2. Analyzing the internal and external phosphorous (P) budgets
    3. Discerning how altered fish communities indirectly affect water-quality dynamics.

    Alum additions improved water quality by decreasing TP and chlorophyll a. Combining alum and biomanipulation (fish renovation) together had the added benefit of decreasing phytoplankton and cyanobacteria densities. Restoration treatments, however, were ineffective for shifting the phytoplankton community away from cyanobacteria dominance. Furthermore, microcystin toxin, produced by cyanobacteria and a key target of many water quality restoration efforts, varied more year-to-year than by restoration technique. We conclude that if water quality restoration goals are focused on biological improvements, as opposed to solely chemical improvement, then adding biomanipulation in a dual treatment may enhance restoration success. The information collected during this project will be useful in designing future lake renovation projects and developing long-term management plans for renovated lakes.

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANTS: Meg Trowbridge M.S., Christa Webber M.S.(2014)

    FUNDING: Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Amy Burgin, Steve Thomas, Mark Pegg, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kevin Pope, NE CFWRU

    Generation of Novelty in Complex Systems

    Novelty and innovation are essential attributes for the continued success of ecological, social and other complex systems, both natural and anthropogenic. Without them, dynamic, adaptive change in response to disturbance is not possible. Novelty and innovation are required to keep existing complex systems resilient and adaptable, and to create new structures and interactions following catastrophic ecological or social failures. The importance of novelty is recognized in the management and business world, but is less explicitly recognized and appreciated in the scientific world.

    Novelty refers to new “products,” things or ideas which are generated through innovation, the process whereby novelty is created. Novelty and innovation are characteristic of dynamic systems—systems that are alive and changing—and are generated at multiple levels. For example, in biological systems, novelty is generated at the genetic level through random processes of mutation, at the species level through evolution and natural selection, at the community level as a result of regrouping of species combinations, and at the ecosystem level as a result of changes in key processes and interactions. Novelty is being constantly created, and extinguished. By generating potential solutions in advance of need, solutions may be readily available when problems arise.

    Novelty can be either local or global. Locally novel additions are unique to that particular system, but may exist and originate from elsewhere. For example, when a species invades an ecosystem, novelty is added to that system. The invasive species is new to that system, but the species itself is not a novel or new life-form. On the other hand, globally novel additions had no prior existence. They are new not only to the particular system within which they are generated or added, but are globally unique. Speciation in an ecological system represents the addition of global novelty.

    Without innovation and novelty, systems may become stagnant. Having a constant source of innovation and novelty is clearly important for systems, both following transformations and during their normal dynamics. However, novelty may be a destructive force as well. Invasive species, for example, can alter basic process and structure in ecosystems and be a source for decline or collapse. Cellular mutations can have obviously destructive consequences upon individuals and lineages—cancer is a prime example. Thus, innovation and novelty can be a double-edged sword. In ecosystems, for example, novelty in the form of new species has been a cause of major extinctions, but is also the prime source for recovery.

    GOALS: To explore the causes and consequences of the generation of novelty and innovation for humans, for social systems and for ecological systems, we will convene a small diverse group of researchers from diverse disciplines, with a variety of approaches and backgrounds, where we believe a deliberate focus on the concept of novelty could be fruitful. Our overall intent is to identify commonalities across disciplines. What attributes of a system are necessary if novelty is to arise? What might be the consequences, both positive and negative, of systems structured to permit novelty and innovation?


    FUNDING: James S. McDonnell Foundation

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU



    Geographic Distribution and Occupancy of Otters in Nebraska

    After nearly a century of absence from Nebraskan waters, otter reintroduction efforts began in the state in 1986, and the otter was listed as an at-risk species in the state at that time. By 1991, 159 release otters were obtained from around North America (primarily from Alaska and Kayaking Nebraska rivers looking for signs of otters (Photo courtesy Nathan Bieber)Louisiana) and released at seven sites on the Platte, Niobrara, South Loup, Elkhorn, Calamus, and Cedar rivers. Early indications from citizen reports, bridge surveys, and radio-telemetry of marked otters in the Central Platte River region suggest that these iconic predators have recolonized much of their lost historic range. With the apparent success of the reintroductions, Nebraska’s wildlife managers are anticipating removing this species from the at-risk species list, and developing an active management plan for the species.

    GOALS: To provide state furbearer managers with a more complete picture of North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) distribution in the state of Nebraska, to help aid the development of an otter management plan.

    Our specific research objectives are to:
    1. Determine current distribution of river otters in the state; and
    2. Identify patterns of otter occupancy in order to provide managers with a framework around which to base decisions on possible controlled otter harvests and otter conservation status changes.

    Otter tracks found beneath a bridge (courtesy: Nathan Bieber)CURRENT STATUS: Two field seasons will be dedicated to paddling Nebraska’s rivers in order to document otter sign—primarily tracks and scats on river banks. The location data obtained will be used to build models of otter occupancy across the state’s major watersheds. We will also deploy remote cameras in order to bolster our likelihood of detection and to draw comparisons between active sign surveying by boat and passive surveying with cameras.

    During the summer of 2014, more than 600 river miles were paddled or walked by the surveys team. Otter sign was found in abundance on the Platte and Niobrara Rivers, and sign was also located on the Elkhorn, Loup, and Cedar Rivers.


    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU



    Global Change, Vulnerability and Resilience: Management Options for an Uncertain Future

    Our objectives for this new project are to develop models to detect and assess ecological regime shifts in space and time, to identify components of adaptive capacity, and to identify species and techniques that may serve as leading indicators of thresholds of changing ecological regimes. We will utilize monitoring and survey data that is currently available in North America (e.g., Breeding Bird Surveys) with developing and novel statistical tools and theory to assess long-term trends in resilience of landscapes, changes in ecological regimes in both space and time, and species vulnerable to decline and extinction, with a focus on the management of ecosystems in the Great Plains of the USA.

    We will accomplish these goals using advanced spatial and time series modeling, and discontinuity analysis to quantify how core attributes of resilience (within-scale and cross-scale distributions of species and their functional traits) change over time in ecosystems and landscapes. Additionally, we will evaluate the significance of individual species to adaptive capacity, and thus the resilience of ecosystems and landscapes. We will conduct these analyses with data from the central United States with focal areas on Department of Defense managed properties, in particular Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and Fort Riley, Kansas.

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANTS: Jessica Burnett, Ph.D., Caleb Roberts, Ph.D.

    FUNDING: U.S. Department of Defense

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU, Dirac Twidwell, David G. Angeler (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences)

    Implications of Hunter Harvest and Wildlife-Friendly Agricultural Practices on Pheasant Behavior and Population DynamicsRadio collared hen pheasant (courtesy: Lindsey Messinger)

    Ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus clochicus) are a culturally and economically important game species in Nebraska. Unfortunately populations have been declining since the 1950s due to habitat loss and land use change. Managers are interested in developing programs that will continue to support and increase existing pheasant populations. While lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are vital in supporting pheasant populations, participation in the program is expected to decline. Land managers in Nebraska are offering incentives to private landowners for employing wildlife friendly agricultural practices (e.g., grazing deferment, tall stubble height, and prescribed burning) and access to private lands through public access signup programs.

    GOALS: To provide a better understanding of how pheasants use agriculturally-dominated landscapes and to identify the impacts of recreational hunting on pheasant behavior and population dynamics as well as evaluate the effectiveness and potential benefits of wildlife friendly agricultural practices within the Southwest Focus on Pheasants area in southwestern Nebraska.

    CURRENT STATUS: Over the course of the project we captured and radio collared over 300 pheasants, including equipping several birds with GPS collars programmed to take locations every four hours. We recorded over 4,000 locations and collected vegetation and microclimatic conditions at nearly 500 sites. In addition, we collected data on hunter movements and interests. Using advanced time-lapse photography, we took over 100,000 photos which we are using to estimate hunting pressure on private lands enrolled in the Nebraska Open-Fields and Waters programs. We also conducted interviews of 150 parties hunting the open access fields for pheasants. This project is expected to be completed is ongoing.

    Pheasant hunting, southwest Nebraska (courtesy Jessica Laskowski)WEBSITE: http://snr.unl.edu/fishhunt/index.asp

    PROJECT MANAGER: Adela Annis

    GRADUATE STUDENT ASSISTANT: Lindsey Messinger, M.S. (2015)

    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU; Larkin Powell, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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    Incorporating Soil Ecological Knowlege into Management of CRP Lands

    Mid-contract management on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) seeks to mimic the natural disturbance regimes (e.g., fires) that were once common in the Great Plains, but are now largely repressed by humans. The goal of mid-contract management is to increase the abundance of ground-dwelling macro-invertebrates, increase forbs, increase overall plant diversity, and increase bare ground—all of which are essential to quality upland game bird habitat. However, these different types of disturbances often have unintended consequences beyond enhancing bird habitat.

    Disentangling and quantifying the tradeoffs in different mid-contract management strategies will allow private landowners and federal and state personnel to better navigate the delicate task of balancing management goals (e.g., cost of implementation, bird production and/or soil quality). For example, if a mid-contract management strategy imparts concurrent benefits to bird populations, soil quality, plant communities and invertebrates, its true value to management may be underestimated. Conversely, if immediate benefits to bird production actually undermine soil quality and its long-term ability to support key macro-invertebrate populations, the benefit of mid-contract management to upland bird production could be limited.

    We believe that our work addresses a substantial gap in current understanding of agroecosystems enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. We will in particular investigate the response to four common mid-contract management activities, disking, burning, selective plantings, and herbicides. Although the impact of the CRP and management activities on soil health is well-documented, there are no known studies investigating the impacts of four common mid-contract management activities on various attributes of ecosystem health within the scope of an individual study.

    GOALS: To evaluate how different mid-contract management strategies address the goal of improving upland gamebird habitat, and also seeks to quantify the effects of mid-contract management on soil, plants, and insects.


    FUNDING: National Science Foundation IGERT Program, United States Department of Agriculture

    PROJECT PI:Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Hannah Birgé



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    Local and Landscape Constraints on Habitat Management for Upland Birds

    Badger depredating an artifical nest (courtesy: Victoria Simonsen)GOALS: Throughout the Great Plains, changing land-use practices are resulting in large scale biodiversity loss and an ever increasing dependence on effective conservation and restoration efforts provided by private, state, and federal agencies. Yet, far too often local management efforts fail to demonstrate the desired outcome for wildlife populations. Understanding why management actions are unsuccessful is paramount, but past studies often fail to consider the importance of ecological mechanisms that act across multiple spatial and temporal scales. By exploring how grassland bird communities select habitat based on local vegetative composition as well as landscape attributes, we can gain perspective on why populations and communities fail to react to apparently suitable habitat improvements.

    Using geographic information system spatial analysis tools, we are analyzing data from avian point count surveys and local vegetation assessments within a larger land cover layer of Nebraska. The resulting outputs are being employed to create species specific spatial models for Nebraska, which identify key focus areas to implement management efforts with the goal of maximizing management benefits to grassland bird communities.

    CURRENT STATUS: Over the 2010, 2011, and 2012 field seasons, roughly 3,000 avian point count surveys were conducted on State Wildlife Management Areas, private properties enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters program, road transects, and other private properties enrolled in Conservation Reserve Program throughout much of Nebraska. In order to validate our spatially explicit species distribution models, this past field season we added ten transects located in the panhandle, north-central, and north-eastern portions of the state. Analysis of habitat factors influencing upland species and other obligate grassland birds indicates that the surrounding landscape strongly affects local habitat suitability. Thus, the success or failure of conservation efforts on the ground may be determined by the landscape context.

    Vicki Simonsen, as an undergraduate UCARE student, tested one of the mechanisms that may explain how landscapes influence pheasant populations. In the summer of 2013, we used artificial nests to test if the presence of suitable nesting habitat in the surrounding landscape reduced nest predation. Over the course of two months we put out more than 100 nests, some of which were monitored by trail cameras.

    WEBSITE: http://snr.unl.edu/prairiebirds/

    POST-DOC: Erica Stuber

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Chris Jorgensen, M.S. (2012)

    UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT: Victoria Simonsen, UCARE Student (2015)

    FUNDING: Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, University of Nebraska–Lincoln UCARE Program

    PROJECT PI: Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU; Larkin Powell, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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    Making Adaptive Management Meaningful:Translating Science Learning into Policy Decision-Making

    Chad Smith continues his research into the application of adaptive management at large scales and the link between governance structure and the successful implementation of adaptive management.

    Smith is investigating major Bureau of Reclamation river recovery programs and his research includes: 1) literature review of adaptive management and adaptive governance; 2) how the river recovery programs define and implement adaptive management; 3) a comparison of different program governance structures; and 4) the aspects of governance and program management that relate to and predict successful implementation of adaptive management. Smith is applying learning from his research in the real world, serving as Adaptive Management Plan implementation coordinator for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. He was also co-lead of a small team that wrote an Adaptive Management Plan for the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program and has provided expert advice on adaptive management to programs on the Trinity River, Missouri River, and the Everglades.


    FUNDING: No external funding

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Kyle Hoagland, University of Nebraska- Lincoln

    Management Induced Shifts in Pheasant Reproductive Strategies

    The native grasslands of the Great Plains serve as habitat for numerous wildlife species, but the intensification of agricultural practices and the subsequent alteration of the landscape has drastically reduced and fragmented remaining grasslands. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has helped to mitigate habitat loss and slow the rate of population decline of grassland dependent species, but funding for, and subsequent enrollment in, CRP is declining. Pheasants are an economically important species that responds well to CRP, but as acres of CRP decline, it is becoming increasingly important to develop new approaches to improve and stabilize pheasant populations.

    GOALS: Because pheasants are relatively short-lived, successful reproduction is paramount to population growth. The goal of this project is to better understand how management actions (e.g., habitat enhancement programs, harvest management) influence pheasant Measuring pheasant eggs (photo courtesy: Lindsey Messingerreproduction and subsequently pheasant population growth. We employed an individualistic approach that considers behavioral and life history responses to management actions as a means of understanding pheasant population dynamics.

    CURRENT STATUS: Radio-telemetry was used to track hen pheasants in the breeding seasons of 2012 to 2014 within Nebraska’s Southwestern Focus on Pheasant Area, a site intensely managed to boost pheasant populations. Hen nesting site preferences and reproductive strategies (e.g., clutch size, egg size, and incubation patterns) were assessed in response to variable land-cover, hunting regimes and habitat enhancement. Over three years we captured nearly 100 hen pheasants on more than ten study sites. We measured many aspects of reproductive conditions, including collecting blood from roughly 60 hens to assess baseline and elevated cortecosterone levels, an indicator of stress. We found and monitored almost 70 nests, and collected nearly 300 samples of invertebrate food resources in brood rearing habitats. Work on this project is on-going.

    WEBSITE: http://snr.unl.edu/prairiebirds/

    PROJECT MANAGER: Adela Annis

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Jessica Laskowski (2014)
    FUNDING: The Nebraska Game & Parks Commission
    PROJECT PI: Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU

    Merging Social and Ecological Network Models

    The field of ecology is shifting from population and community-based research to social-ecological research at a systems scale. Humans are often excluded from analysis, nullifying the social-ecological approach proposed by the sub-fields of resilience and adaptive management. Successful natural resource management relies on understanding how the components within a system fit together, allowing actions to be more proactive than reactive.

    To apply this shift in thinking to aquatic invasive species management, there are two main research objectives.
    1. Identify how the social component of ecosystems can be integrated into ecological network analysis (or vice versa); and
    2. Apply and adapt the current ecological network analysis approach to predict movement, likelihood of introduction, and establishment of aquatic invasive species.
    This will allow us to assess how disturbances, such as the introduction of an invasive species, alter energy flows both within an individual lake and across the regional landscape.

    We adapted the framework of infectious disease network modeling to couple a social-network model depicting angler movement with ecological models depicting aquatic food webs to develop a dual-aspect (i.e., “coupled”) model. We used this coupled model to simulate the invasion process for Chinese mystery snail in the Salt Valley reservoirs in southeastern Nebraska over the next 25 years. In the simulation, five reservoirs started with source populations of mystery snail, seven additional reservoirs were invaded and became “contagious,” and two had snail populations introduced but were still below the contagion threshold.

    This case study demonstrates the utility of combining both social and ecological models to address the interdisciplinary problem of spreading invasive species within a complex, social-ecological system. This method may allow us to take a true “regional fishery” approach to sportfish management.


    FUNDING: International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) Young Scientists Summer Program, National Science Foundation IGERT Program, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

    PROJECT PI: Brian D. Fath, Towson University, Kevin L Pope, NE CFWRU, Valery Forbes, UNL


    Monitoring, Mapping and Risk Assessment and Management of Invasive Species in Nebraska

    GOALS: Funding was provided through a federal-aid grant from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to:

    1. Provide outreach to and facilitate communication among stakeholders regarding biological invasions, coordinate the Nebraska Invasive Species Council, and assist with any additional legislation regarding invasive species as needed;
    2. Develop management tools including an invasive species adaptive management plan, a risk analysis for high-risk invasive species in Nebraska, a multi-agency prevention protocol for preventing the spread of invasive species (terrestrial and aquatic), and identification of invasive species introduction pathways.

    CURRENT STATUS: The Nebraska Invasive Species Program continues to coordinate monthly meetings for the Nebraska Invasive Species Advisory Council, which was formalized as a state council through legislation in April 2012. This seventeen-member advisory council discusses topical invasive species issues, develops management plans and Early Detection-Rapid Response (EDRR) plans, builds collaborative partnerships to address priority issues, and informs the Nebraska Legislature of the status of invasive species in the state. An adaptive management plan was written by the Council in 2015 and provided to the Governor and legislative agricultural committee.

    2015 lakeside outreach event (photo courtesy: Allison Zach)In early 2015, the council supported Legislative Bill 142 which was passed into law in March. Several council members testified at the senate hearing and wrote letters in support. The law will help provide funding for an aquatic invasive species prevention program within the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The council supported this bill because similar programs have shown to be successful in other states.

    Council members participated in a variety of outreach events in order to provide information regarding identification, prevention, and management of invasive species. The council’s page of the website was further expanded to provide the public with information on the group. EDRR efforts were expanded through identification courses council members provided their own staff and other groups. The council updated the Nebraska weed watch list to identify key species of concern for management efforts. Nebraska Invasive Species identification guides were developed and distributed to the public at outreach events to assist in identifying invasive species and report them via the invasive species website.

    WEBSITE: http://neinvasives.com/

    PROGRAM COORDINATORS: Karie Decker( 7/2009 -11/2012) Rodney Verhoeff (4/2013- 7/2013), Allison Zach (9-2013- present)

    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU


    Pollinator Assemblages in Southeast Prairies and Sandstone Prairies Biologically Unique LandscapesMelissodes mallow (courtesy Bethany Teeters)

    Grasslands are among the most highly altered ecosystems in North America, and most tallgrass prairie, for example, has been converted to agricultural land uses. The surviving fragments provide critical habitat for sustaining the wildlife and functions of grasslands. Pollination, especially for forbs, is largely mediated by wild bees, and therefore pollination plays a key role in maintaining the diversity and structure of the tallgrass prairie community. This project documents the diversity of the wild bee communities and the relationship between bee and forb communities in different grasslands of the Southeast Prairies Biologically Unique Landscape in southeast Nebraska. Natural and semi-natural grasslands vary greatly in the availability of floral resources that bees require, but in a fragmented landscape other factors, such as the connectivity of suitable habitat patches, may be just as influential on bee species diversity and abundance as floral resources. This project examines the role of such factors in shaping bee community assemblages

    1. Characterize the bee fauna from natural and semi-natural grasslands,
    2. Determine how floral resource availability is linked to bee species diversity,
    3. Examine the response of the wild bee community to local and landscape factors.

    CURRENT STATUS: An analysis of bees’ pollen profiles was added to the project with the help of the palynology lab at UNL to indicate resource use within a patch and the exportation or restriction of pollination services. Also, since bees are expected to respond differently to local and landscape factors according to functional traits, documenting these differences is important for monitoring species distributions and predicting changes in those distributions over time, especially because different functional groups may respond more strongly to certain types of land use or management than others. Analyses for this project should be completed by the end of 2015


    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, National Science Foundation IGERT Program

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Chris Helzer, The Nature Conservancy

    Population Assessments of Temperate Basses in Nebraska Reservoirs

    Branched Oak Lake and Pawnee Reservoir are flood-control reservoirs located in the Salt Creek watershed of southeastern Nebraska, and are popular sites for water-based recreation. Angler use of these reservoirs has declined in recent years and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is interested in restoring angler use to historic levels. The observed declines in angler use in both reservoirs have been associated with shifts in the fish communities and declines in the quality of the sport fisheries.

    White perch comprised a large portion of the fish biomass in both reservoirs following their unintentional introduction. An important step towards the improvement of the sport fisheries in these reservoirs was reduction of white perch population sizes and their maintenance at low abundances. Previous attempts to reduce white perch population sizes by stocking predatory fish were unsuccessful, likely because gizzard shad present in both reservoirs provided predatory fish with preferred, alternative prey. Physical reductions (removal of large portions of the populations) were needed in the white perch and gizzard shad populations for predators to have any chance of controlling and maintaining white perch abundances at low levels.

    GOALS: Managers needed baseline information on the abundances and spatial distributions of white perch and gizzard shad to assist in implementing effective actions for removing large proportions of these populations. Also, the effects of management actions need to be described to improve future management actions. The goals of this project were to provide this baseline information and to describe the effects of a control effort. The three specific objectives were:
    1. Quantify white perch and gizzard shad abundances;
    2. Describe the seasonal spatial distributions of white perch and gizzard shad;
    3. Describe the effects of the 2013 low-dose rotenone application on white perch and gizzard shad populations in Pawnee Reservoir.

    CURRENT STATUS: In Branched Oak Lake, we estimated that there were 1.14-1.26 million white perch along with 0.77-1.04 million gizzard shad. In Pawnee Reservoir, we estimated that there were 1.49-1.69 million white perch along with 0.59-0.68 million gizzard shad. White perch exhibited seasonal movements, particularly in Branched Oak Lake. During spring, white perch abundance was greatest in the lower portions of the reservoir. During summer, white perch dispersed into the upper reaches of the reservoir. In the fall, white perch shifted back to the lower reaches of the reservoir. We did not detect a consistent pattern in gizzard shad spatial distributions.

    In an attempt to reduce white perch and gizzard shad abundances in Pawnee Reservoir, managers applied a low-dose of rotenone (9 µg/L target concentration) during November 2013. This application nearly extirpated gizzard shad from Pawnee Reservoir and reduced white perch abundance by 83%. This reduction in white perch abundance was accompanied by a 47% increase in white perch mean length from September 2013 to September 2014.

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANTS: Lucas Kowalewski, M.S. (2014), Nathan Stewart. M.S.(2015)

    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Kevin L. Pope, NE CFWRU: Chris Chizinski, NE CFWRU



    Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Science

    GOALS: The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture’s (RWBJV) mission includes science-based conservation efforts for all priority bird habitats throughout Nebraska’s mixed-grass prairie region. The Management Board of the RWBJV is committed to implementing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Strategic Habitat Conservation model. This science-based model requires a commitment of resources and time to develop a strong biological foundation for delivering conservation planning and designing research and monitoring efforts. To fulfill this commitment, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln hired Dana Varner as the RWBJV Science Coordinator in October 2014. This position is the product of a partnership between the RWBJV, the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit, and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln School of Natural Resources, which provides office space and support in Lincoln. Funding for the position is provided by the RWBJV.

    CURRENT STATUS: As science coordinator, Dana is working with RWBJV science staff to develop models and decision support tools that help identify areas where conservation is most likely to benefit migratory birds and wildlife. She works with partner researchers and scientists to expand the knowledge of the region’s conservation needs and to monitor and evaluate the success of completed habitat projects. In addition, Dana helps monitor and evaluate the success of ongoing and past conservation projects and collaborates with researchers from various federal, regional, and state conservation organizations. Dana recently worked with the RWBJV’s Conservation Planning Workgroup to complete an updated Research, Inventory, and Monitoring Plan which outlines science questions, concerns, and needs within the administrative area. Several projects are currently in progress including an assessment of National Wetland Inventory data, an evaluation of several years of wetland vegetation and management data, and a conservation acquisition prioritization model.

    COORDINATOR: Dana Varner

    FUNDING: Rainwater Basin Joint Venture

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Andy Bishop (Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Partnership)


    Range and Habitat Preferences of Northern Long-Eared Bats in Nebraska

    GOALS: The listing of the Northern long-eared bat (NLEB) as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in spring of 2015 highlighted the need to better understand this species ecology within Nebraska. This project aims to evaluate geographic distribution and potential habitat of the Northern long-eared bat throughout the state, in order to identify areas of high and low probability of occurrence. This critical information will allow managers and biologists to focus future conservation efforts on areas that will have the greatest positive impact. If federal restrictions are increased in the future, this work will also potentially limit intensive and costly consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to only areas where NLEB is likely to occur. To achieve our objective, this project will use a two-step process over the course of two field seasons.

    The first step of the project, implemented during the summer of 2015, is to better define the actual geographic distribution of the Northern long-eared bat within Nebraska by conducting statewide surveys. Acoustic detectors that record the echolocations of bats have been deployed for six nights at a time in preselected 10km x 10km grids. Because each species of bat emits a unique echolocation in the same way that bird species have unique songs, the collected recordings can be analyzed for NLEB presence. The acoustic detectors allow for simultaneous large-scale surveying in a variety of habitat types while requiring fewer man-hours compared to the physical trapping of bats. The results from this acoustic survey will provide a better idea of NLEB distribution throughout the state and will focus efforts for the project’s second step.

    In part two of the project, regions where NLEB was detected will be intensely acoustically surveyed in a variety to habitat types in 2016 to better define habitat preferences of the species. The data gathered from this stage of the project will be used to create a model that can predict NLEB presence in the state and evaluate influential landscape features (e.g., forest cover, water availability, vegetation types, etc.). The final product will be a map showing the probability of NLEB presence throughout Nebraska. This map can be used by federal and state managers to focus conservation efforts and mitigation actions to areas where the species is likely to be present and will have the greatest effect.

    An increased understanding of at-risk bat populations is critical for their conservation. Until technology such as acoustic bat detectors became available, landscape-level bat research required trapping, which is time consuming and often yields biased and incomplete results. Now that bat researchers have the tools to conduct large-scale surveys with relatively small field crews, we can better begin to answer larger-scale questions and improve conservation measures for at-risk bat species. This research is a step in that direction for the state of Nebraska.


    FUNDING: Nebraska Department of Roads

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU



    Resilience Thinking and Structured Decision Making in Social-Ecological Systems

    The natural resource management paradigm has been shifting from traditional command-and-control to a focus on complex social-ecological systems and explicit recognition of uncertainty. Implementation of the new paradigm requires methods for making wise, defensible decisions in the face of the challenges and risks presented by managing natural resources in complex social-ecological systems. This research project presents an approach to natural resource management planning in complex social-ecological systems that combines the benefits of structured decision making (including adaptive management) and resilience thinking. Oak forest conservation in southeastern Nebraska is used as a case study throughout.

    Structured decision making is a process for developing management plans that are built upon a thorough understanding of the problem, values, options, and potential consequences. Adaptive management is a form of structured decision making in which uncertainty is reduced through designed monitoring and review. Resilience thinking offers ways of conceptualizing complex systems, acknowledging the presence of multiple stable states in nature and considering the extent to which a given system can absorb perturbation before shifting into a different organization of functions and processes.

    Research conducted as part of this project involved:
    1. Linking recommendations for resilience thinking and structured decision making;
    2. Investigating how optimization can be used to address resilience objectives;
    3. Exploring the potential for adaptive management under State Wildlife Grants, focusing on the Nebraska Natural Legacy; and
    4. Reducing uncertainty about the environmental and management drivers of oak seedling abundance at Indian Cave State Park.

    Full results can be found in Noelle Hart’s dissertation.

    GRADUATE STUDENT: Noelle Hart, Ph.D. (2015)

    FUNDING: National Science Foundation IGERT Program, Nebraska Natural Legacy Project

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen NE CFWRU, Melinda Harm Benson (Universtiy of New Mexico)


    Stopover Decisions of Migratory Shorebirds: An Assessment of Habitat, Food, Behavior and PhenologyShore birds (courtesy: Joseph Fontaine)

    The wetlands of the Great Plains are increasingly altered by anthropogenic change, but remain important stopover habitats for a variety of migratory birds, including 37 species of shorebirds. Although shorebirds use highly altered wetlands, the extent to which these habitat decisions represent true preference and are adaptive remains unclear.

    CURRENT STATUS: To identify the influence of anthropogenic change on avian habitat preferences, surveys were conducted for migrating shorebirds from April to June of 2010 and 2011 in north-central South Dakota. Our results show that shorebirds prefer highly-altered, agricultural wetlands, which have lower invertebrate (food) abundance than do grassland wetlands. However, by examining migrant behavior, we were able to determine that individuals have a higher foraging rate and search effort at preferred habitats, indicating that foraging efficiency, rather than food availability, is the limiting factor in this system.

    We also examined the influence of local phenology on shorebird migration to identify the potential sensitivity of migratory timing to climate change. We found that shorebird migration coincides with invertebrate food resources, indicating that migrants may be sensitive to climate-driven changes in food resource phenology.

    Based on the findings from this initial study, which concluded with Ryan Stutzman receiving his M.S. in December 2012, we have now begun to assess how larger landscape attributes affect stopover decision processes and the corresponding physiological implications. In the spring of 2013, Caitlyn Gillespie began monitoring shorebird migratory patterns through the Rainwater Basin of south-central Nebraska as well as the southern Prairie Pothole Region of South Dakota, a study that is currently on-going.
    Study Site- Climate Change

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Ryan Stutzman (M.S. 2012), Caitlyn Gillespie, M.S. (2015)

    FUNDING: U.S. Geological Survey, National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Great Plains Landscape Cooperative

    PROJECT PI: Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU, Susan K. Skagen (USGS Fort Collins Science Center), Ted LaGrange, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, Lisa Webb (Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit), Andy Bishop (Rainwater Basin Joint Venture)



    Testing for the Presence of the Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium Dendrobatidis) in Amphibian Populations Across Nebraska

    Many worldwide amphibian population declines and mass mortality events have been attributed to a fungal infection, chytridiomycosis (chytrid), caused by the fungal zoospore Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Although the exact mechanism by which mass mortalities occur from chytrid is unknown, it is hypothesized that the chytrid fungus infects keratinized epidermal cells of post-metamorphic frogs with death caused by: 1) disruption of osmoregulation, 2) the absorption of a fungal toxin, 3) or a combination of these factors. Concern over the potential ecological consequences of such rapid and drastic extinctions has led to an increase in effort studying the potential effects of emerging infectious disease on amphibian populations. Furthermore, scientific and technological advances in non-invasive techniques to detect the chytrid fungus have changed the ability of researchers and managers to track the distribution of and measure the population fluctuations and declines caused by infectious disease such as chytrid.

    The chytrid fungus is known to occur in Nebraska and has been found in amphibian populations located in eastern Nebraska as well as along the Central Platte River. Although sporadic testing for the chytrid fungus in populations of native amphibians has occurred in Nebraska, a statewide survey has never been conducted. This gap in our knowledge pertaining to the current distribution of chytrid complicates management and conservation of amphibians. Filling this gap will allow researchers to know where chytrid is currently found in the state, and will aid in the development of predictive models and help in the understanding of factors that may help or mitigate the further spread of chytrid.

    GOALS:To determine the current extent of chytrid in Nebraska by swabbing larval amphibian populations statewide. Using PCR, the samples were tested for the presence of Bd zoospores. The presence/absence of chytrid in amphibian populations were used to model the distribution of chytrid based on environmental covariates associated with wetland condition and amphibian call surveys. The modelling results will be used to develop predictive maps of the potential spread of chytrid based on important environmental and anthropogenic variables.

    CURRENT STATUS: During the spring and summer of 2011 and 2012, researchers visited wetlands in eastern and central Nebraska. During site visits, tadpoles were captured using dip nets. At those sites where tadpoles were captured, each individual was swabbed using a sterile swab. In 2011 and 2012, 168 swabs were collected from five frog species at 21 sites. Preliminary PCR results detected chytrid in 62% of the sites. Additionally, chytrid was detected in at least one swab from each species. The detection rate (d) was highest in bullfrogs (n = 9; d = 1.00) and lowest in plains leopard frogs (n = 78; d = 0.10). The detection rate did not appear to vary between months (May – n = 56, d = 0.125; June – n = 112 d = 0.17). An additional ten samples were collected during 2013 and 23 samples were collected during 2014.


    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Ted LaGrange, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission


    Testing the Functional Resilience of High and Low-diversity Prairie Communities to Paired Disturbance

    As climate change and human intervention continue to affect long-term weather patterns, increase the likelihood of extreme weather, and introduce novel stressors into native ecosystems, managing for resilience has become a key concern for land managers and policy makers seeking to prepare for the consequences of these changes. Resilience, defined as the ability of a system to maintain its essential functions and identity in the face of disturbance, may work both for and against sustainability efforts, as degraded ecosystems may develop “negative” resilience that makes restoration of essential ecosystem functions difficult or impossible. Identifying and reinforcing the factors that support the resilience of healthy ecosystems to disturbance is, therefore, key to the long-term goals of both conservationists and policy makers hoping to improve the long-term sustainability of their regions.

    Biodiversity, by maintaining biomass production under a wide range of conditions, protecting against biological invasion, and providing functional redundancy for essential ecosystem processes, is frequently noted as one of the most important factors in developing ecosystem resilience. However, studies of biodiversity and resilience are often undertaken at very small scales, under laboratory conditions, and frequently test only one disturbance. To improve our understanding of the cumulative impact of multiple disturbances on ecosystem resilience and stability, we have developed a two-year study focusing on the resilience of prairie ecosystem functions to paired disturbances. By imposing paired disturbances to experimental subplots within larger restoration plots, this study will address the cumulative impact of multiple disturbances on grassland community functions at both high and low diversity.

    GOALS: By imposing paired disturbances to experimental subplots within larger restoration plots, this study will address the cumulative impact of multiple disturbances on grassland community functions at both high and low diversity.

    CURRENT: Our study, set in the Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies restoration area, will impose paired disturbances in an experimental restoration seeded in 2010 with twelve 0.5 acre blocks ofInside view of a rainout shelter in the field (courtesy Becca Bevans) either low-, mid- or high- diversity communities of native prairie plants. Passive rainout shelters will be in place from mid-May 2015 through 2017 on the low- and high- diversity plots to simulate long-term drought conditions, and subplots within each of these shelters will receive a secondary disturbance of either nitrogen additions (mimicking runoff from large-scale conventional farms), biomass removal (mimicking typical haying patterns on grasslands statewide), or invasive species plantings (to simulate biological invasion). One drought subplot and one subplot with no disturbances will also be established as controls. Experimental plots will be monitored for water stress, changes in community composition and nutrient cycling, and other functional characteristics over the course of the study to establish whether responses differ between low and high diversity plantings. This study, by imposing relatively large disturbances within large restoration blocks allows for the in-situ evaluation of disturbance effects that has been lacking in previous research and ensures that our results are due to our manipulations and not to edge effects typically present in smaller designs.


    FUNDING: Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU


    Understanding and Managing for Resilience in the Face of Global Change

    Resilience science provides a conceptual framework and methodology for quantitatively assessing the ability of a system to remain in a particular state. Probable non-linear ecological responses to global change, including climate change, require a clear framework for understanding and managing resilience. However, much of the resilience research to date has been qualitative in nature, and frameworks developed for the implementation of resilience science have been either vague or focused on the social component of social-ecological systems. Attempts to quantify resilience and operationalize the concept include the cross-scale resilience model, discontinuity theory and the early detection of leading indicators of regime shifts. More work is needed to support the effective use of resilience theory for managing ecological systems.

    GOALS: We propose to address gaps in the science of ecological resilience in order to develop a usable framework for the implementation of resilience science by natural resource managers. We will do this by accomplishing a series of related but discrete tasks.

    1. Synthesize the current state of discontinuity research, the language barriers to communicating complex systems science and discontinuities, and the key criticisms of discontinuity theory in order to present a defined direction for how these criticisms could be addressed and/or tested.
    2. Determine whether changes in species abundance can be a leading indicator of system-level regime shifts and an indication of the location of scale breaks within the scales of a system, and test the hypothesis that the location of species with the highest variance in abundance will be non-random.
    3. Develop a new conceptual model of the relationship between biodiversity, scale and resilience that accounts for abundance and functional response diversity.
    4. Develop a resilience framework for managers from a synthesis of our discussions and basic research.

    To accomplish these goals, we will convene a working group of international team of scientists working in a broad range of social-ecological systems. Working group meetings will be arranged to collaboratively address these tasks.

    CURRENT STATUS: We successfully completed all three working group meetings in Fort Collins, Colorado, at the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis. Numerous publications are being developed as a result of the analytical, data-driven focus of our meetings. One is nearing completion, and three others are in varying stages of development.

    GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Kristy Nash, Ph.D., Shana Sundstrom, Ph.D.

    FUNDING: U.S. Geological Survey, Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Shana Sundstrom, UNL; Kristy Nash, James Cook University, Australia




    Use and Satisfaction of Public Hunting OpportunitiesInterviewing a party ofpheasant hunters in southwest Nebraska

    The retention and recruitment of hunters is of increasing concern to wildlife management agencies nationwide. A lack of access to quality hunting opportunities is often deemed as the primary reason why people quit hunting. In an effort to provide hunting opportunities for their constituency, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) invests considerable time and resources into the development and management of public Wildlife Management Areas and private lands open to public access through the Open Fields and Waters Program. Although investment in these programs is assumed to fulfill the needs of the hunting community, evaluating the use of public or private land by hunters, and their overall satisfaction with the hunting experience is challenging. Currently, the majority of hunter participation, satisfaction, and harvest data are collected at coarse spatial and temporal scales, through post season surveys. Unfortunately, this data does not provide the preferred resolution needed to appropriately manage individual Wildlife Management Areas or Open Fields and Waters sites. Moreover, it does not allow managers to assess the value of their investment in particular lands. Given the limited resources available for wildlife management, managers need a better understanding of hunter participation at the scales for which management actions occur if they are expected to manage lands appropriately.

    GOALS: The integration of research methods from fisheries and human dimensions will allow for fine-scale spatial and temporal data to be collected using proven methodology. Incorporation of fine-scale spatial and temporal patterns in hunter participation will help managers better determine appropriate site-specific management objectives given the dynamic nature of hunter participation.

    Further, fine-scale spatial and temporal patterns in hunter participation can be used to develop regional management approaches that consider the dynamic nature of hunter participation. Hunters often move among multiple sites within a region. The geographic distribution of alternative hunting locations, the respective availability of game, and the overall quality of the hunting experience plays a critical role in how people perceive and participate in outdoor recreation. Thus the effect of hunting and hunter participation on wildlife populations, hunter recruitment and retention, and local economies is likely acting at multiple scales that are currently not considered when managing wildlife resources. This regional understanding of hunter participation and satisfaction could be a considerable aid in guiding NGPC investments in public land acquisition and private land initiatives such as the Open Fields and Waters Program.


    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU; Lindsey Messinger, NE CFWRU

    Wetland Condition Assessment

    Establishing survey plots in the Sandhills (courtesy Craig Allen)Since 1867, Nebraska has lost nearly 35% of its wetland resources, which equates to a loss of over one million acres of wetlands across the state. As of 2005, only 3% of remaining wetlands Walking to a remote sampling site (courtesy: Craig Allen)in Nebraska were owned by state, federal, or other conservation and management organizations. Although the quantity of these wetlands is known, the quality of the remaining, privately owned wetlands is less well understood.

    As an extension of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA), eleven wetland complexes will be visited, many in recognized Biologically Unique Landscapes, and wetland conditions will be measured in ten individual wetlands in each complex. One wetland in each complex will be what is considered the “reference standard” in terms of condition for wetlands in each complex, which provides a reference point to which other wetlands in that complex are compared. The data collection methods conform to those developed by the EPA, in which three levels of assessment are used to quantify wetland condition including landscape assessment, intensive on-site assessment focusing on vegetative, soil, and hydrologic characteristics and amphibian presence, and a rapid assessment method (USA-RAM) developed by the EPA.

    GOALS: To quantify the condition of important wetland resources in Nebraska and aid in the development of wetland-specific, rapid assessment methods and state-wide wetland management strategies. The knowledge gained will be important to the management of our wetland resources in Nebraska, and nationally.

    CURRENT STATUS: Data collection began in April 2011. In the spring of 2011 and 2012, anuran call surveys were conducted to determine amphibian presence in 50 wetlands located in six wetland complexes (Eastern saline, Missouri River, Central Platte River, Cherry County, Elkhorn River headwaters, and Rainwater Basins). During the summer of 2011, researchers conducted assessments at 12 wetland sites associated with the EPA’s National Wetland Condition Assessment. In addition, during the summers of 2011–2013 researchers conducted wetland condition assessments at 109 wetland sites located across Nebraska. Using data collected in 2011–2012, a Nebraska specific wetland rapid assessment method (NeWRAM) was developed and tested at 40 sites during 2013. Initial results indicate that NeWRAM is an effective method for measuring wetland condition. Our analyses of data, and final report to the U.S. EPA are nearing completion.


    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Ted LaGrange, Nebraska Game and Parks CommissionFact sheet handout





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    Wind and Wildlife Project

    Wind energy is a growing sector of the renewable energy industry. Although it is considered green energy because no greenhouse gases are emitted during operation, the potential implications to local flora and fauna resulting from increasing wind power development remain largely unknown.

    GOALS: Help to avoid, minimize, and mitigate negative impacts of wind energy development and operation on local flora and fauna by facilitating communication among stakeholders regarding wind power development and operation, identifying and implementing priority research and monitoring efforts, and developing management tools and technical guidance materials.

    CURRENT STATUS: A number of tools have been developed to educate stakeholders about wind energy and wildlife issues. The Nebraska Wind Energy and Wildlife Project website was developed in 2011 and is frequently updated to assist in informing wind energy developers and environmental consultants on policies and resources for Nebraska. More than 100 individuals from a diverse array of stakeholders have subscribed to the listserv used to disseminate wind energy and wildlife information. Emails sent out via the listserv approximately every two weeks contain Nebraska-specific information and nation-wide wind and wildlife news. Several informational handouts and brochures were developed including: Mitigation Guidelines for Wind Energy Development in Nebraska, Nebraska Bat Migration Project, and Nebraska Wind Conference: Wind–Wildlife Session Presenters 2014.

    A number of guidance documents have been or are currently being updated and/or developed. The Whooping Crane Operational Contingency Plan was developed for wind energy companies to use as a template. Due to more frequent sightings of whooping cranes outside of the historic migration corridor, an operational contingency is recommended for all wind energy facilities in Nebraska. The template was developed with input from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is freely available on-line. A sub-group of the Nebraska Wind and Wildlife Working Group developed a mitigation document including recommendations and a map for forthcoming wind energy developments. The document was open for review for six months. Comments were received from a wide-range of stakeholders. Based on comments, the map developed by the group was updated to include not only levels of mitigation in areas, but also the relative sensitivity of areas to wind energy development (siting information). The Guidelines for Wind Energy and Wildlife Resource Management and the Mitigation Guidelines for Wind Energy Development in Nebraska documents were merged into one comprehensive document that is currently under review. All of these documents have been developed with input from a variety of stakeholders.

    A number of research projects related to wind energy and wildlife are currently being developed with stakeholders across Nebraska and beyond.

    WEBSITE: http://snr.unl.edu/renewableenergy/wind/

    PROGRAM COORDINATOR: Caroline Jezierski

    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks CommissionFact sheet handout

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU, Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU




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    Woody Plant Management in the Niobrara River Valley

    Kent Fricke measuring the diameter of a burned eastern red cedar following a 2012 wildfire in Boyd County, NE (courtesy Kent Fricke)The Nebraska Natural Legacy Plan (NNLP) is a conservation strategy that identifies conservation targets (such as wildlife species and plant communities) and management approaches to decrease threats to Nebraska’s biodiversity.

    GOALS: In cooperation with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, an adaptive management framework will be developed for the NNLP to:
    1. Evaluate the effects of conservation activities;
    2. Prioritize research and monitoring activities;
    3. Develop innovative programs to improve the ability to inventory and monitor at-risk species;
    4. Develop theoretical and empirical techniques that facilitate the integration of research and monitoring into the management programs of at-risk, non-game species, including consideration of the complex trade-offs between social, economic, and biological factors that may facilitate and constrain effective wildlife management.

    This project specifically investigates aspects of invasive woody plant management in the Niobrara River Valley in northern Nebraska. Species of interest include eastern red cedar, which has expanded its range in Nebraska by an average of 38,000 acres each of the last five years. Landowner perceptions of cedar encroachment and attitudes toward management techniques will be surveyed to determine the effectiveness of landscape management options. The effects of woody plant removal on vegetation will be quantified to determine the effectiveness of removal techniques to improve ecosystem health and function. To this end, more than 45 acres of cedar were removed from private properties in 2012 and 2013, and 25,650 meters of vegetation surveys were completed. Additionally, 600 bur oak seedlings were hand planted in herbivore exclosures to determine survival and herbivory rates for the recovering plots where cedar were removed. Finally, an economic analysis of cedar timber harvest and markets will determine the efficacy of cedar harvest as a viable tool for reducing management costs.

    CURRENT STATUS: The results of this study will be used to develop an adaptive plan for management of invasive woody plants in the Niobrara River Valley. The majority of fieldwork began in spring 2012 and ended in fall 2014. Oak seedlings are being monitored through the fall 2015. A manuscript on adaptive management of invasive species for ecosystem services is being developed, landowner surveys will be distributed in fall 2015, and analysis of vegetation data is being conducted.


    FUNDING: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    PROJECT PI: Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU; Joseph (TJ) Fontaine NE CFWRU

    Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit–USGS
    422 Hardin Hall
    3310 Holdrege Street
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    Lincoln, Nebraska 68583-0984
    Phone 402-472-0449
    Fax 402-472-2722
    Nebraska Game and Parks Commission   US Geological Survey   US Fish & Wildlife Service   University of Nebraska-Lincoln   The Wildlife Management Institute