Graduate Student Defense Presentations

Measurement and Prediction of Stage and Discharge with Ground-Based Imager - Ken Chapman
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 06/08/2023
Research, management, and modeling for water quality and resources, ecological processes, agricultural and urban planning, wildlife habitat, and much more depend on accurate water level and discharge measurement. Greater and more complex water resource needs for parties with competing interests demand more detailed models and effective science communication than are possible with the traditional scalar measurements. The scientific community recognizes the need for new methods that provide context for manual and programmatic extraction of a broader range information to make measurements and predictions, drive insights and facilitate communication between stakeholders and the public. Methods have been developed to accurately measure water level in ground-based imagery, but it is critical to improve those methods and create standardized tools, workflows, and software for use by the scientific community, academia, and industry. The purpose of this research was to find ways to develop and analyze tools and methods to measure and/or predict water level and streamflow in images with less artificial conditioning of the water scene than was previously possible. Three research studies were identified to accomplish this: 1) A site study to determine whether it is possible to predict water level and streamflow accurately to fill data gaps in United States Geological Survey historical data from a time-series of images with no artificial calibration or waterline target in the scene, 2) creation of a free, open-source software suitable for use by hydrologists and ecologiststo measure water level in images with a pixel to world coordinate calibration and waterline search target installed in a stream or river, and 3) creation of a new calibration target that improved the bow-tie calibration target and measurement surface used in #2 by allowing for calibration in every image and that occluded less of the scene allowing for improved contextual analysis.
Title: Bat use of afforested and encroached patches and their role in extending bat habitat into the Nebraska Sandhills. - Jacob Wagner
  • Thesis Defense
  • 05/17/2023
The Nebraska Sandhills are currently undergoing a state shift to a redcedar dominated woodland due to anthropologic planting of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) and woody encroachment from the periphery of the Sandhills. To better understand this novel ecosystem and how bats are utilizing it we collected data at Barta Brothers Ranch with acoustic sensor grids consisting of 24 100m spaced acoustic sensors placed adjacent to planted windbreaks. Supplemental data from the Nebraska North American Bat Monitoring Program was used for data analysis at larger spatial scales. We used Spearman ranked correlation and kriging interpolation maps to see how bats used windbreaks during nightly activity. Eptesicus fuscus, Lasiurus borealis, and Nycticeius humeralis showed close usage pattern to the windbreaks while Lasiurus cinereus and Lasionycteris noctivagans showed usage patterns outside of our sensing area, while still showing a correlation to trees at a larger scale. We used multi model inferencing and model averaging to find the best model to explain bat species richness and call count. We found that distance to trees, with a preference to deciduous, and time through the summer to be the best predictors of bat species richness and call count. We used linear regressions of first instance calls in our grids to determine if bats are using windbreaks to roost or travel from their roost to feeding grounds. All species combined, Eptesicus fuscus and Lasionycteris noctivagans showed higher numbers of first instances closer to the windbreak, this shows that bats, in general, are using windbreaks for roosting or for roads from roost to their feeding grounds. Lasiurus cinereus reported a flat regression line, hinting that this species may travel across open grassland from roost to feeding grounds. Bat presence and use of trees in the Sandhills creates a dilemma of battling ecosystem services when there is management incentive to control the spread of woody plants for grassland diversity and forage quality and quantity.
Salt Valley Greenways: Nature’s Network - Carlee Koehler
  • Oral Presentation
  • 04/26/2023
Greenways are nature’s infrastructure– offering transportation of plants, animals and insects, as well as places of study, survival and solace for people. The Salt Valley Greenways weave through and around the city of Lincoln, connecting the natural and rural world into the bustle of urban life. This storytelling project explores the diversity of resources that greenspaces provide and reveals those through conversation with scientists, artists, and folks who call Lincoln home.
Localizing Climate Assessment Tools - Stonie Cooper
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 04/25/2023

Focus on global climate change can overlook the nuances of local weather and climate impacts. This study describes tools and methods for creating and observing weather and climatic conditions on a temporal and geographic scale that represents the environment of Nebraska. Recognition of the limited resources available for continuous application of new data and gathering of observations provides a guide for a “best practice” scientific, yet economic, model for maintaining an observational network and deriving value-added products.

Utilizing Federally maintained datasets of geographically relevant cooperative observations as a backdrop, the locally implemented and maintained weather observation network, the Nebraska Mesonet, is assessed against the official national climate records. Strategies for increasing the relevance and reliability of the Nebraska Mesonet observed parameters that show inconsistencies are discussed. Quality control techniques are tested and evaluated to provide confidence in the recorded observations, with recommendations made to mitigate and limit errant data from entering an official Nebraska Mesonet record.

Linking child stunting, water quality, and pathogen sharing at the human-animal-environment interface in Rwanda: A One Health study - Ben Ndayambaje
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 04/23/2023
Rwanda has made remarkable progress on many sustainable development goals (SDGs), including reducing infant, child, and maternal mortality. However, the prevalence of child stunting has remained high, impacting 33% of children under the age of five in 2020. Stunting is a complex global health challenge that can be associated with diverse individual, family, and community factors as well as environmental risk factors such as water quality. Limited clean drinking water in dry seasons and reliance on surface water sources shared with livestock and wildlife can expose people to chemical and biological contaminants. Cohabitation of people and livestock in rural areas increases the risk of zoonotic pathogen sharing and human illness. Pathogen exposure and resulting diarrheal diseases are also linked to child stunting.

To examine the relationships among stunting, water quality, and zoonotic pathogen sharing, we used primary data collected in Karongi district in western Rwanda, an area with high stunting prevalence, as well as secondary national survey data. We linked data from the 2019-2020 Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) with national water quality testing data. We used generalized linear regression to identify demographic, socio-economic, livestock ownership, and water quality factors associated with stunting. Child factors (birth order, age, gender) and household factors (wealth status, mother’s education, rural or urban location, number of children in the household) were associated with increased stunting. Water quality (pH) was also marginally associated with stunting.

In our Karongi district field study, we paired household surveys with biological sample collection from children, livestock, and drinking water in upstream and downstream communities in the Musogoro River watershed. Water samples from surface water, public taps, and household drinking water storage containers were tested for basic physical water quality parameters, bacterial contamination (total coliform bacteria and E. coli), and potential hazardous elements (As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Pb, Mn) with public health importance. We cultured and isolated potentially zoonotic pathogens (Campylobacter, E. coli, and Salmonella) from child stool samples, livestock fecal samples, and drinking water. Surface water sources and household drinking water containers had high levels of biological (total coliform/E. coli) and chemical contaminants (iron and manganese). The prevalence of Campylobacter was high (>60%) across child, livestock, and water samples in upstream and downstream communities. High levels of E. coli were also detected across samples (>40%), with significantly higher prevalence in upstream children and livestock. Salmonella was less commonly detected, but the prevalence was significantly higher in upstream livestock. Whole genome sequencing analyses of cultured pathogens are planned to define population structures and assess pathogen sharing at the child-livestock-water interface. Our results highlight the need for further research to assess environmental factors associated with child stunting and to facilitate development of more holistic household- and watershed-based intervention strategies to improve human, animal, and ecosystem health outcomes.

Applications of screening in rangeland monitoring: Quantifying early warning signals of state transitions in Nebraska - Daniel Bauloye
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/19/2023
Rangelands are important ecologically, economically, historically, and socially. Rangelands are also threatened by regime shifts (state transitions) like woody encroachment, desertification, and exotic annual grass invasion. Management of rangelands to prevent, contain, and reverse regime shifts relies on rangeland monitoring. Innovations in rangeland monitoring—such as the generation of new landcover datasets with field data, remote sensing, and geospatial cloud computing—allow for earlier detection (screening) of regime shifts in support of proactive rangeland management. In this thesis, I screened Nebraska landscapes for woody encroachment, desertification, and exotic annual grass invasion, according to three characteristics of regime shift signals: presence, persistence, and non-stationarity. In addition to informing management, results can help advance approaches to regime shift screening in rangelands.
The Last Drought Frontier: Building a Drought Index for the State of Alaska - Grace Campbell
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/18/2023
Drought is characterized by periods of below average precipitation. There are five major types of drought recognized in the literature: meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, socioeconomic, and ecological. A relatively new concept in the drought literature is “snow drought.” A key part of the definition of drought is that it is not always accompanied by extreme heat. This means drought can occur even in cold climates, cold seasons, and higher latitudes and altitudes, like Alaska. Drought is a natural part of climate variability, but Alaska’s climate is changing faster than any other state in the United States. Alaska is no stranger to dry periods; prolonged dry periods have occurred in the 1950’s, 1970’s, 1990’s, and most recently from 2016-2019. However, the frequency, duration, and intensity of drought is changing due to global climate change. There have been many impacts to Alaska hydrology, forestry, and agriculture due to drought, so the purpose of this study is to enhance the understanding of drought in Alaska by identifying and using regionally appropriate climate information to create a comprehensive picture of drought in Alaska while capturing its unique characteristics. The principal components analysis (PCA) approach was used to integrate 17 individual drought indicators and indices to identify their relative contribution on a climate division basis. Those results were then used to create a composite drought index (CDI) for the state of Alaska for the period 2003-2021. Results showed that the CDI was able to capture drought events in Alaska, a first step towards improving operational drought monitoring in the state.
The Role of Gender and Curiosity on Transformational Leadership: A Mixed Method Study - Brooke Mott
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/12/2023

Environmental leaders are tasked with finding innovative solutions to dynamic and ever-changing environmental challenges. Leaders must possess the ability to gain and use new knowledge and experiences that motivate resolving gaps in one’s knowledge (i.e., curiosity) to find forward thinking solutions. Curiosity is an integral part of human existence but may be experienced in various ways. Studies have shown men and women may possess different leadership styles, but the influence of curiosity on leadership between genders has not been as readily explored. Women have shown unique characteristics for successful leadership in many contexts but are often underrepresented in natural resource management. Characteristics of curiosity and those of women leaders are similar to qualities in transformational leadership who are successful environmental stewards. This explanatory mixed methods study investigated the role of curiosity in transformational leadership and seeks to understand the influence of curiosity and leadership in women environmental leaders.

We assessed gender, trait curiosity, and transformational leadership scores of participants in the year-long Nebraska Water Leaders Academy. Regression analysis found that curiosity was a strong predictor of transformational leadership while gender was not, from both the participant and rater’s perspectives. Thematic analysis of interviews with women environmental leaders produced seven themes that inform the essence of how curiosity and transformational leadership influence the women’s experiences. Participants expressed constant awareness of stereotypical gender roles and how this played into power imbalances that both limited and supported elements of their curiosity and leadership. Their people-oriented curiosity supported communication, relationship building, and perspective gaining which were strengths of women leaders.

The influence of landscape on exposure to and the genetic diversity of Toxoplasma gondii in felids and canids from coastal California - Kleidy Camela
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/07/2023

Landscape composition and anthropogenic pressure can shape the transmission of pathogens between hosts in shared or adjacent habitats. Human-driven environmental changes such as urbanization can increase contact between people and animals, increasing the risk for pathogens to be transmitted at the human-domestic animal-wildlife interface. Toxoplasma gondii, a globally distributed zoonotic parasite shed by domestic and wild felids, can accumulate in terrestrial and aquatic environments leading to exposure in diverse hosts. As T. gondii can be spread through food webs (consumption of infected animal hosts) as well as by ingesting oocysts in contaminated soil, plants, and water, changes in landscape composition and configuration can impact exposure by changing contact among hosts or the potential for contacting oocysts in the environment. Although most animals and people infected with T. gondii experience mild or no clinical signs, the severity of the infection is highly dependent upon the immune system of the hosts and the strains of T. gondii involved. We used logistic regression to assess the association between landscape characteristics and T. gondii exposure as well as T. gondii genetic diversity in bobcats, coyotes, foxes and feral domestic cats from coastal California. We analyzed anthropogenic (human population density and global human footprint), demographic (sex and age), landscape composition (urbanized, agricultural, and less developed areas), and landscape configuration (diversity and evenness indices) factors as potential predictors. We found that landscape heterogeneity was positively associated with T. gondii exposure in feral cats. Animal age was consistently a strong predictor for exposure in all wild and domestic species. We also found associations between human population density and occurrence of novel atypical strains of T. gondii in wild host species. Results from this study provide insight into the ecology of T. gondii transmission among sympatric hosts in heterogeneous landscapes and highlight the need for further research to identify areas where new strains of T. gondii may emerge.

Sturgeon Chub Stats, Distributional Patterns, and Habitat Use and Benthic Fish Assemblage Structure in Missouri River Tributaries of South Dakota - Mitchell Magruder
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/22/2022
Native species of the Missouri River drainage inhabiting benthic habitats dominate state and federal lists of species at risk. Sicklefin Chub Macrhybopsis meeki and Sturgeon Chub Macrhybopsis gelida are two native Missouri River benthic minnows that are currently under review for federal listing due to extensive population declines and local extirpations within their native range. Substantial alterations to the Missouri River in South Dakota threaten Macrhybopsis spp. and other benthic fishes; however, large, less impacted tributaries in the state may act as refugia for native species. The extent of Sicklefin Chub and Sturgeon Chub populations is largely unknown in the state and recent assessments documenting Missouri River benthic fish assemblages are lacking. Our objectives were to: 1) update the status, evaluate distributional patterns, and characterize habitat use of Sicklefin Chub and Sturgeon Chub, and 2) describe, assess, and compare patterns of benthic fish assemblage structure in the Missouri River and its major tributaries in South Dakota. Sturgeon Chub were captured in the Cheyenne, White, and Little White rivers, but were absent from the Little Missouri and Grand Rivers. Relative abundances of both age-0 and age-1+ Sturgeon Chub were highest in the White River. Distributions of Sturgeon Chubs were limited to lower areas of all rivers where stream width, turbidity, discharge, and observed habitat complexity were greatest and abundances of Flathead Chub Platygobio gracilis and Hybognathus spp. (Plains Minnow H. placitus and Western Silvery Minnow H. argyritis) were high. Sturgeon Chub primarily used main or secondary flowing channels and were predominantly found in or near the thalweg. Velocity, depth, and percent gravel predicted Sturgeon Chub presence on smaller scales. Primarily native fish assemblages were observed in all rivers. Total species richness was lowest in the White River, where extreme environmental conditions likely limit species diversity and nonnative species establishment. Longitudinal patterns of assemblage structure were observed in the White, Cheyenne, and Little White rivers due to natural and anthropogenic changes in habitat conditions. Species additions occurred as rivers gradually increased in size and habitat complexity, but species were replaced in response to abrupt habitat changes, such as those made by impoundments. High abundances of native, benthic fishes in Missouri River tributaries of South Dakota that are experiencing overall population declines highlights the importance of large, relatively unaltered tributaries to the conservation of freshwater biodiversity in North America.
A Biome in Transition: Co-production of Science for Grassland Conservation - Dillon Fogarty
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 11/21/2022
Woody plant encroachment is a global threat to the persistence of grassland biomes and the ecosystem services they support. Effective conservation in the face of biome-scale threats will require new and adaptive approaches that go beyond the disciplinary traditions of natural resource management. The focus of this dissertation is co-production of science for the conservation of grasslands threatened by woody plant encroachment. Each chapter reflects an actionable research question, co-developed between scientists and managers to better understand, and manage the underlying risks of woody encroachment. Overall, findings provide a better understanding of where grasslands are vulnerable to encroachment, key drivers of grassland vulnerability, the risk of woody encroachment to ecosystem services, and how management can reduce grassland risk to encroachment.
The North Platte River Valley: the intersectionality of surface water quality and people - Anni Poetzl
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/21/2022
The North Platte River (NPR) Valley of western Nebraska is a semi-arid watershed with row crop production, livestock production, and urban land use activity and has a population of diverse stakeholders. These land use activities contribute to the enrichment of surface waters, such as streams, which can affect human and ecosystem health, as well as economic development and recreational activities. The project objectives are to: (1) quantify the movement of dissolved inorganic nutrients from the land within the NPR Valley to the NPR via tributaries and canals, (2) identify spatiotemporal variability of nutrient limitation of periphyton growth within the NPR, and (3) explore the factors that are associated with the adoption of a web-based water quality monitoring tool. To address the first two objectives, I collected water samples and discharge measurements from canals, tributaries (streams leading back into the NPR), and the NPR from the Wyoming–Nebraska border every three weeks from June–September 2021; and I performed repeated nutrient limitation bioassays every three weeks at nine sites. I found that land use within the NPR Valley contributes to nutrient enrichment of the NPR and the subsequent export of nutrients downstream. Based on the lack of response of periphyton to the nutrient bioassays, it is likely that the nutrients coming from the watershed meet periphyton growth demands, except during the end of the growing season when some nutrient limitation of growth was detected. To meet the third objective, I created a survey tool to understand how attitudes, norms, and beliefs affect the use of a web-based water quality monitoring tool. Performance expectancy was the only significant predictor of behavioral intention for water users to use a web-based water quality monitoring tool. From a management perspective, these studies emphasize the need for better management of nutrient exports from the NPR Valley, but the incorporation of functional goals into the deployment of potential water quality tools to ensure high behavioral intention to use the tool.
Different legacies, similar journeys: how factors within and outside management control structure prairie restorations and remnants - Katharine Hogan
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 11/18/2022
Ecological restoration is a critical tool in countering biodiversity collapse and can create desired positive feedbacks, i.e., native plant restoration that attracts native fauna and supports ecological function. Habitat management is critical to this process, as accelerating global change makes restored and unrestored habitat health increasingly uncertain. Because western ecological restoration is fairly new and developed alongside or after other ecology subdisciplines, there are knowledge gaps in our ability to restore at scales that can counter global degradation. Knowledge gaps include how to 1) maintain restorations over time amidst changing climate, 2) increase restoration success by partitioning controllable vs. uncontrollable factors, and 3) close the theory-application loop by using theory to predict natural systems, and natural systems to inform theory. This dissertation uses experimental and non-experimental data to investigate how factors within and outside manager control structure grassland plant communities across southern Nebraska. In a new 3-year experiment I tested the impact of seed mix (mid- and high-diversity) and haying on flowering phenology in old hay meadow restoration. Haying significantly increased flower abundance regardless of seed mix, but extra work may be needed to ensure critical spring blossoms are predominantly native, pollinator-preferred species. The non-experimental data from collaborators encompassed 19 years of sampling and 42 grassland sites (including 23 never-plowed remnants). Using those data, I explored interdecadal plant diversity in restorations, partitioned the effects of soils and management on restorations and remnants, and partitioned variance of major functional groups over five years. Plant diversity in restorations accumulated and persisted over 19 years. Soils and management impact remnant and restoration community composition, and soils also impact plant diversity. Variation within plant communities is largely stable over time, with site differences contributing most of the variance but not differing between remnants and restorations. Overall, grasslands act similarly over time regardless of restoration/remnant status and high spatial variability, and species-targeted, intensive sampling may be required to detect critical sources of variation within non-experimental plant communities.
The Perception of Natural Resource Management in Nebraska: Efforts for Cross-Boundary Collaborative Management - Dan Morales
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/16/2022
Nebraska’s agricultural landscapes are rapidly changing, affecting natural resources and their successful management. I utilized two surveys and scenario planning to investigate (Chapters 1: statewide survey, 2: local survey, and 3: scenario-planning workshop) attitudes and perceptions of natural resource management and cross-boundary collaboration. My first objective focuses on what prevents Nebraskans from addressing natural resources challenges looking at demographics amongst generations and the type of area they live in (rural vs urban). The second objective focused on whether landowners engaged with their community in managing natural resources. The third objective developed alternative future scenarios for the Denton Hills landscape, and preferred alternative futures. I found that demographics matter, and that older generations are more likely to engage in community natural resource management. I found that landowners with larger acreages to manage are more likely to view collaboration positively. Scenario planning revealed how local landowners in the Denton Hills view the identity of the Denton Hills, and identified both desired and undesired future alternatives for the landscape. Generally, I found that natural resource challenges are recognized by the public and that people are willing to work in cooperative groups to address the challenges. Understanding perceptions of management, factors affecting those perceptions, collaborative management and a shared future vision will enhance resource management.
Quantifying the Relationship between Soil Organic Carbon and Soil Color in Nebraska - Aldi Airori
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/15/2022
Soil color is easily measured in the field and holds potential to be used as an indirect measurement of soil organic carbon (SOC). Such a method would be a powerful tool, building on decades of Munsell soil color data recorded in soil surveys. The main limitation to this approach is knowledge about the specific color-SOC relationship in a region, which often vary in relation to parent material, soil texture, climate, and land use. A secondary limitation is the subjective nature of the Munsell color data. The objectives of this study are: 1) to develop and evaluate the accuracy of pedotransfer function (PTFs) for the prediction of SOC based on soil color and texture in the state of Nebraska and 2) to evaluate digital based color measurements methods as field predictors of soil organic carbon (SOC) in Nebraska. To address the first objective, data were obtained from National Soil Information System (NASIS) database, including all pedons sampled across 13 Major Land Resources Areas (MLRAs). The dataset was comprised of 1576 soil pedon description and included samples of varied soil textures, Munsell color, and SOC. The second objective was addressed using digital color measurements of 50 soil samples from Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory archive. Methods used for digital color measurement included a portable color sensor (PCS) and smartphone camera (SPC). Regressions of moist Munsell value versus SOC using the NASIS data had R2 values ranging from 0.23 to 0.69 for individual MLRAs. In contrast regression developed using the PCS for three selected MLRAs had R2 values ranging from 0.49 to 0.81. Various PTFs based on the NASIS data resulted in RMSE of prediction ranging from 0.795 to 2.1. Digital color measurements using SPCs were found to be of low accuracy and were weakly related to SOC. The results indicate the potential of using soil color as a predictor for SOC, especially when PCS are used to measure soil color.
New Physical Foundations in Equivalent Water Thickness and Crop Water Stress Detection - Wenqi Ou
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 11/14/2022
Monitoring crop water stress is critical for developing strategies for improving crop productivity and mitigating water stress damage. The common approaches to monitoring crop water stress include field crop measurement (e.g., leaf water potential and relative water content), climate observation (e.g., soil moisture and precipitation), and remote sensing data (e.g., vegetation indices). Equivalent Water Thickness (EWT), defined as the ratio of water mass to leaf (leaf EWT) or ground area (canopy EWT), has been used as a direct field measurement of the vegetation water status indicator and has shown to be measurable by remote sensing data. Therefore, there is increasing interest in using EWT in important economic crops (e.g., corn and soybean) for water stress detection. However, the utilities of crop EWT and water stress detection lack the physical foundation on three domains: responsive characteristics to environmental changes and plant physiological processes, limitations of corn leaf EWT remote sensing estimation at multiple spatial scales, and variations of the standardized anomalies in different drought conditions and the associations between standardized anomalies of crop leaf EWT and vegetation indices. Therefore, the overreaching goal of this dissertation was to identify the potential role of canopy EWT in agriculture water management. Therefore, we conducted a long-term study of leaf and canopy EWT in the experimental sites near Mead, Nebraska. In this dissertation, we established the following research objectives: examine the relationships between canopy EWT with latent heat flux (LE), soil water content (SWC), vapor pressure deficiency (VPD), and leaf EWT with their associated leaf area index (LAI), gross primary productivity(GPP), and LE (Chapter II), identify the heterogeneity of corn leaf EWT vertical distribution and the accuracy of remote sensing estimations in field scales (Chapter III), and investigate the correspondences between canopy EWT standardized anomalies with other drought indicators and the associations between vegetation indices and leaf EWT standardized anomalies(Chapter IV). This dissertation provided new physical foundations in the EWT of corn and soybean and insight into crop water stress detection with remote sensing data.
Landscape change, scale, and human response to change in the Great Plains - Kate Bird
  • Thesis Defense
  • 09/02/2022

Great Plains landscapes are undergoing changes at multiple spatial and temporal scales due to processes ranging from woody encroachment to demographic change. These changes may fundamentally alter the agroecosystems of the Great Plains such that the provisioning of ecosystem services such as biodiversity and livestock production is affected. Improving our understanding of the effects of landscape change and how humans perceive and respond to these changes is important for facilitating research and management that enhances the resilience of these agroecosystems. In order to examine landscape change in the Great Plains and the roles of scale and human response to change, I first applied discontinuity theory and graph theory to evaluate the functional connectivity of the Central Platte River Valley (CPRV) for mammal species interacting with the landscape at multiple scales. I found that the CPRV was highly connected for mammal species at larger scales and less connected for those at smaller scales. I also found limited overlap in the patches of habitat most important for connectivity for mammals interacting with the landscape at smaller and larger scales. These results suggest that a multiscale approach to management in the CPRV will be most beneficial in supporting diverse species communities. Second, I interviewed ranchers in the Great Plains states of Nebraska and Colorado in order to examine their perceptions of landscape change and potential coping strategies. The ranchers interviewed identified numerous changes affecting Great Plains landscapes, and they generally expressed a willingness to learn and adopt new practices, including in response to landscape change. These results indicate a need and opportunity for research and management partnerships between governmental and nonprofit entities and the ranching community in order to develop coping strategies. Cumulatively, by examining landscape change and the role of scale and human response to change, we gain insight into potential approaches to research and management in changing Great Plains agroecosystems, which is valuable in maintaining the resilience of these systems.

Toward Usable Environmental Information: A Case Study with The Santee Sioux Nation - Alexis Chavez
  • Thesis Defense
  • 08/12/2022

Across the country, Indigenous Peoples have developed and implemented adaptation plans to improve their resilience to climate and weather disturbances. An essential component of these plans is to use environmental information effectively. Institutions like universities and governmental agencies usually provide this environmental information. However, many studies have shown that much of this information is not usable for its intended users. Additionally, there has been little research into the issues that can affect Indigenous Peoples’ usage of environmental information in the U.S. Therefore, this case study aimed to assist the Santee Sioux Nations’ Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) capacity in using environmental information by investigating how to improve it. Moreover, the study also explored how others can improve their collaborative practices with the OEP since the environmental information’s usability depends not only on its quality but also on the relationships that establish its accessibility, validity, and ultimately, its usability.

Through a rigorous ethical process with employees from the OEP, a case study was developed that consisted of a focus group, document analysis, and observations. The results reveal that, unlike previous research on usable science that focuses on technical issues, the main obstacles to usability result from present-day structural issues that connect to past U.S. actions. A similarity with the previous research is that the relationship between the information producers and users is a critical factor in this study for increasing the usability of environmental information.

Non-breeding Season Survival and Habitat Selection of Northern Bobwhite in Northeast Colorado - Joe Wolske
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/22/2022
Northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) have experienced range wide population declines and are listed as a Tier 2 species of conservation concern in Colorado. Recent harvest data from northeastern Colorado suggests fewer bobwhites and managers aim to identify the vital rates and habitat features by which population growth rate may be limited to guide management actions. Although many studies have suggested that bobwhite populations are most sensitive to changes in reproductive factors, recent work suggests that some populations can be sensitive to adult non-breeding season survival. Additionally, northeastern Colorado has habitat and weather dynamics unique to the northern periphery of the northern bobwhite range. We monitored bobwhites in northeastern Colorado for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 non-breeding seasons to estimate non-breeding season survival and habitat selection. This included constructing known-fate survival models for each study season to determine any variation in survival between the winter stages of early-winter, mid-winter, and late-winter, as well as sex, age class, and mass at the time of capture. The highest performing model for each season estimated weekly survival that varied between the winter stages. We also monitored bobwhite habitat selection by performing weekly covey habitat surveys. Predictor variables include vegetation cover percentages, micro-climate variables, vegetative structure variables, and species richness estimates at used and random sites. We then used step-wise backward selection modeling to determine if any variables were being selected disproportionate to their availability. Our final habitat selection model included visual obstruction, percent bare ground and percent litter cover. The coefficients for relative probability of use were positive for each variable in the model. Our research aims to provide demographic and habitat selection data to managers to assist them in management action decision making.
Coupling Dendrochronology and Remote Sensing Techniques to Assess the Biophysical Traits of Juniperus Virginiana and Pinus Ponderosa Within Grassland Communities in the Semi-Arid Grasslands of the Nebraska Sandhills - Reece Allen
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/21/2022
Woody species encroachment is occurring within the sandhills region in Nebraska, primarily driven by Juniperus virginiana and Pinus ponderosa, altering ecosystems and the services they provide. Effective, low cost, and cross-scale monitoring of woody species growth and performance is necessary for integrated grassland and forest management in the face of climate variability and change, and anthropogenic management. In this study, we sought to establish a relationship between remote sensing-derived vegetation indices (VIs) and dendrochronological (raw and standardized tree ring width) measurements to assess the performance of encroaching woody J. virginiana and P. ponderosa located within the Nebraska National Forest in the sandhills. We hypothesized that environmental stresses that impact foliage growth and photosynthetic capacity also impact annual tree ring growth of woody species, including invasive J. virginiana and P. ponderosa, which can be detected using remote sensing techniques, and that abiotic stresses that affect tree performance would be decoupled from that of native grasslands due to differences in physiology, response to stress, and rooting depth. We evaluated relationships between the abiotic environment (precipitation, temperature, PDSI, and soil water content 0 – 3 m depth), tree ring growth, and VIs. Our results indicated that precipitation, temperature, and PDSI were significant (p < 0.05) predictors of J. virginiana and P. ponderosa growth based on dendrochronological and VI measurements (1984 – 2013), while soil water content from 40 – 300 cm was a significant predictor of J. virginiana performance (2005 – 2013). Out of six tested VIs, four (NDVI, GCI, GRVI, and LSWI) were significant predictors of tree ring growth for both species. R2 values between grassland VIs and growing season climate were greater than those of J. virginiana or P. ponderosa, while grassland performance was decoupled from soil water content. We determined via Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator (LASSO) regressions that previous year climate was an important determinant of current year growth of both tree species but did not affect current year grassland performance. This study provides evidence for the efficacy of VIs in monitoring interannual variations in the growth of woody species, while determining abiotic factors significantly impacting the growth of grasslands, J. virginiana, and P. ponderosa in the sandhills region.
Secondary Science Teachers Use of Models in Teaching and Learning about Earth's Climate - Kimberly Carroll Steward
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 07/21/2022
Global climate change (GCC) presents a spectrum of unprecedented global issues. Increased em-phasis is being placed on empowering citizens through outreach and education in response to the urgency of the phenomenon. It is imperative to cultivate 'climate literacy,' particularly in stu-dents, to sufficiently prepare the next generation of scientists, policymakers, industry leaders, and other citizens. Opportunities for teaching and learning about Earth's climate system and GCC are decentralized across topics and grades, and Earth science is increasingly de-emphasized in the K-12 curriculum (Banilower et al., 2018). Furthermore, teachers feel under prepared in their science content knowledge for teaching about GCC, describe instruction in this area as a low priority, and report limited resources to support teaching and learning about GCC. This presentation will present findings from three related manuscripts, each investigating secondary science teachers' enactment of a curricular intervention using a cloud-based global climate model within different contexts and across time, building toward a greater understanding of teaching and learning about Earth's climate.
Insecticide Fate and Transport in Rivers Adjacent to Agricultural Intensive Regions - Josephus Borsuah
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 07/05/2022

Current Use Pesticides (CUPs), which are important for continued productivity within the agricultural industry, exhibit a growing influence on water resources and aquatic ecosystems. Worldwide, over 411,000 kilograms of pesticides (e.g., herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides) are applied annually, leading to chronic pollution in streams and rivers. While substantial work has been completed on the occurrence and distribution of neonicotinoid in both surface and groundwater environmental, little is known on the degradation and transformation of neonicotinoids in natural river environments. Therefore, the overarching goal of this study was to quantify the potential role of two rivers on the photochemical transformation of neonicotinoids and potential fate and transport mechanisms of these insecticides and their degradants in aquatic environments. To evaluate this, we established the following objectives: review the current knowledge of neonicotinoids insecticides in aquatic environments (Chapter 1), evaluate the impact of neonicotinoids fate and transport in watersheds with varying land uses (Chapter 2), and evaluate specific photochemical transformation rates, mechanisms, and byproduct formations of two neonicotinoids (imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) in river water with varying dissolved organic matter (Chapter 3). Findings from this study provide an improved understanding of pesticide and their degradants fate and transport mechanisms in river environments.

Understanding Conservation Specialists' Role in the Adoption of Precision Agriculture in Nebraska - Morgan Register
  • Thesis Defense
  • 06/30/2022

The Delphi Method is used throughout a wide range of scientific disciplines for collecting copious amounts of qualitative data about topics of interest. However, the structure and process can be vague and variable. Within 81 peer-reviewed scientific journals, we identified 115 publications addressing the use of the Delphi Method in the fields of natural resources, fisheries, wildlife, and conservation. Our research showed that the Delphi method can successfully provide insight into a wide range of natural resources topics when reported and explained in the methodological structure. Specifically, this project used the example of the adoption of precision agriculture for conservation purposes, to display the Delphi methods abilities to address prominent questions and provide feedback that will help guide researchers to the best next steps in research and management decisions. Our research meets the demonstration of a complex issue by the need for strategic development of agricultural lands to ensure we can feed a growing world, while simultaneously reducing impacts on our natural resources such as water pollution from runoff, soil degradation, and habitat fragmentation.

To address these growing concerns, researchers are looking for ways to optimize both agricultural production and natural resource conservation. Therefore, precision conservation was developed to ensure sustainable ecosystems for future generations. Precision conservation leverages various precision agricultural tools like yield monitor data, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). to identify areas in fields that can be diversified to optimize financial return on investment while benefiting conservation. The role conservation specialists play and their influence on the implementation and adoption of emerging precision agricultural practices remains in question. To ensure conservation specialists can clearly articulate how precision conservation can help agricultural producers feed a growing world, while simultaneously reducing impacts on our natural resources, we convened a panel of 20 conservation specialists to examine the current diverse perspectives on the progression and integration of precision agriculture in conservation management prescriptions. We used the E-Delphi method to gather data through a series of three surveys to test the hypothesis that the use of precision agriculture is becoming increasingly prevalent in the field of conservation. Our results support the hypotheses, suggesting that conservation specialists are, in fact, using precision agriculture practices in their conservation positions, but with noticeable variance in the confinements of which practices were utilized. Furthermore, the results highlight the need to provide a united message when delivering precision agriculture across varying agency and organizational platforms

Integrated Study of Using Planning Tools and Remote Sensing Approaches to Monitor and Assess Wetland Conservation in Nebraska - Ligang Zhang
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 06/16/2022
Wetland is one of the most important natural resources which provide human society lots of ecosystem services. Human actions and disturbances have caused critical wetland degradation and losses on earth. The main impact factors, including pollution, biological resources use, natural system modification, agriculture, and aquaculture, are significant reasons for wetland degradation. This study focuses on the wetland conservation efforts in Nebraska. In general, this study assesses the wetland conservation in Nebraska from three aspects: 1) How wetland conservation was integrated into Nebraska’s local planning system; 2) What’s the contemporary status of public-owned saline wetlands in Nebraska; 3) What’s the inundation condition of private-owned conservation easements. The first aspect uses a planning evaluation approach to analyze the most current local comprehensive plans. Findings suggest that local governments need more direct and proactive inputs to improve wetland conservation. The second and third aspects adopt machine learning and Google Earth Engine to classify the Sentinel-2 imageries for Nebraska's public and private-owned wetlands. Different machine learning models are applied and compared in the study process. This study shows the possibility of an observation approach for long-term continuous monitoring of Nebraska’s eastern saline wetlands and conservation easements lands efficiently and cost-effectively. The research findings also provide solid scientific evidence for conservation decision-making in these saline wetland areas.
Outdoor Play in Preschool Children: Parent attitudes and loose part play in urban setting - Ann Spilker
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/27/2022
Outdoor play is an important aspect of young children’s health social-cognitive development. However, play in natural environments is declining due to urbanization and various safety concerns. Many urban preschools have outdoor play spaces that lack natural elements that stimulate children’s autonomy, creativity, and imaginative play. Furthermore, parents who find outdoor environments intimidating and fraught with danger limit young children’s outdoor experiences that inhibit their motor fitness, socialization with peers, and ecological awareness. Two qualitative case studies examined preschool children’s outdoor play. Study one focused on preschool children’s loose parts play in urban settings while study two examined parent’s attitudes towards outdoor play with young children. Key findings included that children engaged in dramatic play more with natural loose parts than manufactured loose parts. And playgrounds with age/developmentally appropriate equipment, barriers/fences, and open/centralized play spaces with clear views would make parents more comfortable in providing outdoor play.
Drone and Al for precision conservation: a case study in playa wetlands of the Rainwater Basin in Nebraska - Qiao Hu
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 04/21/2022
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in computer vision is revolutionizing the geoscience and remote sensing domains. Convolutional neural network (CNN), as a typical Automated machine learning (AutoML), automatically represents image contexts (spatial-spectral correlation) from remote sensing imagery into spatially and spectrally relevant knowledge. The end-to-end design relieves researchers from tedious feature engineering and local tuning work. Considering the vital role of long-term frequent land cover monitoring in assessing the local ecosystem health cost-effective adaptations of AutoML, such as CNN, in local cases are vital to support in-time conservation and proactive ecological management. This study aims to explore the adaptation of these cutting-edge AutoML techniques in wetland monitoring and delineation, which can improve traditional wetland mapping pipelines by facilitating cost savings. Three publicly managed playa wetlands in the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska, USA, were selected as the study areas. By implementing AutoML techniques, I want to address three critical aspects in wetland ecosystem monitoring: 1) automatic waterfowl censusing using thermal sensors, 2) automatic wetland inundation delineation during the spring season using multi-spectral sensors, 3) and automatic aquatic vegetation segmentation under dynamic environments (during the fall season) using optical sensors. The remote sensing data in this study mainly relies on high spatial resolution UAV imagery. Different levels of computer vision techniques, including image processing, machine learning, and deep learning approaches, were developed and tested. The results indicate that CNN with proper designs and configurations can facilitate significant cost-savings on wetland mapping.
An investigation of the attitudes and behavioral outcomes of Nebraskan hunters towards tick-borne disease - Dominic Cristiano
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/19/2022

As changes in climate, land-use, and vegetation alter the landscape of the Great Plains, new threats to public health are emerging. Incidences of tick-borne disease contraction in Nebraska have increased nearly 250% over the past two decades – newly established species like Ixodes scapularis may introduce challenges for health practitioners, including more cases of Lyme disease. Strategies for tick-borne disease prevention must incorporate effective health messaging. Audience segmentation may be a useful technique to provide health communication, as it allows for targeted messaging that speaks to specific attitudes and beliefs of a given population. One tool for usefully segmenting populations is the Risk Perception Attitude Framework (RPAF) – this groups individuals into four categories based on their perceived risk towards a threat and their efficacy in protecting themselves from the threat. We applied the RPAF to a sample of hunters in Nebraska to assess differences in level of intention to perform preventative behaviors between the four RPAF groups. Our Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) model found significantly higher behavior intent among individuals in the RPAF group with highest perceived risk and self-efficacy, backing up previous RPAF literature. This information can be used to identify clusters of individuals with similar beliefs towards tick-borne disease and provide more effective health messaging about this threat.

Effects of Instructors’ Beliefs on Incorporation of Sustainability Curriculum at a Midwestern University - Anna Oetting
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/14/2022

The degree to which sustainability is taught is often varied and inconsistent across colleges, departments, and higher education institutions. However, educating students and future generations regarding the different pillars of sustainability, including economic, social, and environmental topics, is increasing in importance and urgency.

A mixed methods case study utilizing surveys and interviews investigates why instructors incorporate sustainability, what impacts course incorporation of sustainability, and barriers that instructors face.

The study found that instructors’ beliefs regarding the importance of sustainability transfers to the level of incorporation in their curriculum. Topics of sustainability incorporated are determined by instructors’ industry and college versus instructors' specific beliefs. Instructors are more intrinsically versus extrinsically motivated to teach the topic and face a variety of external barriers, such as lack of resources, time, and opportunities. By investigating instructors’ beliefs regarding sustainability from multiple fields, this research fills a void in the published literature and provides general recommendations for how to support faculty and university change.

Multi-Criteria Evaluation Model for Classifying Marginal Cropland In Nebraska Using Historical Crop Yield and Biophysical Characteristics - Andrew Laws
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/13/2022

Marginal cropland is cropland that is suboptimal due to historically low and variable productivity and limiting biophysical characteristics. To support future agricultural management and policy decisions in Nebraska, it is important to understand where cropland is marginal for its two most economically important crops: corn (Zea mays) and soybean (Glycine max). A multi-criteria evaluation model was conducted using Google Earth Engine to identify and classify marginal cropland in Nebraska. Eight criteria, including crop yield, slope, climate and soils criteria, were individually thresholded then aggregated to create crop-specific marginal classifications. A new method for classifying long-term crop rotations was devised to examine differences in marginality classification between rotation classes. The results show statewide spatial trends in, as well as the net positive benefits of crop rotation on, marginality classification. The identification of marginal land will also provide evidence to facilitate discussion on biofuels production using perennial biomass crops, targeted land for conservation practices and solar energy capture, both of which have potential to be integrated into current cropping systems. Future work will involve connecting the results of this study with researchers and outreach professionals to aid in ensuring the long-term viability of agriculture in Nebraska.

Feasibility assessment on use of proximal geophysical sensors to support precision management - Sophia Becker
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/08/2022

To keep up with the global food demand, modern agriculture seeks to optimize production on current agricultural land. One method of optimization is through precision management, where field zones are managed according to variation in soil properties. For instance, activities such as irrigation, fertilization, and seeding can be guided by soil maps of available water capacity, organic matter content, and bulk density. The conventional method for obtaining soil maps is extensive soil sampling, which involves significant time and labor costs. On-the-go geophysical sensors can potentially obtain soil maps that are still accurate enough for precision management but less costly. Physical properties of the earth, such as the electrical conductivity and naturally emitted radiation of the top meter of the ground, can be correlated with various soil properties. Geophysical sensors can provide information about the variability of the soil between soil sample locations and reduce the number of soil samples needed. However, across different field conditions, the geophysical data tends to have varying correlations with the actual soil properties.

A study was conducted in three agricultural fields in North Dakota to better understand geophysical sensors’ performances in soil mapping. Electrical conductivity data from an electromagnetic-induction sensor, radioelement concentrations from a gamma-ray sensor, and neutron intensities from a cosmic-ray neutron sensor were used to build simple linear models that predict soil properties across each field. At each of the sites, different soil properties such as bulk density, texture, or available water content were predicted with satisfactory accuracy. The study shows that using just a few soil samples alongside geophysical data is a feasible method for creating soil maps for precision management. While electromagnetic induction and gamma-ray surveys are currently commercially available to producers, future work must be done to establish which sensors are best for each setting and the method’s economic value.

Exploring Social Dimensions of Ecological Restoration in the Removal of Two Dams on the Elwha River - Joe Hinnant
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/05/2022

The United States is approaching a critical juncture regarding aging dam infrastructure. Recently, a common path forward has been to decommission and remove dams, returning rivers to a free-flowing state.

The primary focus of most literature on ecological restoration, especially dam removal, has been the ecological impact of the restoration. Attention from practitioners and researchers is shifting toward the importance of participation and the social dimensions of ecological restoration. The social situation surrounding a dam removal can lead to expedited success, delayed progress, or an abandoned removal effort. This study seeks to connect selected social dimensions of dam removal with the broader literature of ecological restoration by exploring the question, “how are social dimensions of ecological restoration expressed within public participation in a dam removal process?”

A qualitative research design using a directed content analysis was used to study selected social dimensions of dam removal contained in public comment letters sent to the federal agency in charge of removing two dams on the Elwha River of Washington. A codebook was developed to explore the social dimensions of restoration attitude, environmental attitude, place attachment, connectedness to nature, sense of community, and economics.

The findings of this study revealed those with positive restoration attitude more frequently referenced the social dimensions of environmental attitude, place attachment, connectedness to nature, and sense of community. While participants with negative restoration attitude centered more of their testimonies around the economic situation surrounding dam removals. Additionally, participants with a positive restoration attitude framed their comments and references to other social dimensions around the potential ecological, economic, and social gains following dam removal, while participants with a negative restoration attitude framed their comments around the possible ecological, economic, and social losses that would ensue following dam removal.

Findings from this study emphasize the importance of public participation in the dam removal process as well as the continued exploration of the social dimensions of dam removal. As this river restoration method becomes more commonplace, environmental managers will need to be able to effectively engage with the public and understand not only the ecological dimensions, but also the social dimensions of dam removal.

Analysis of Soil Change in Four Nebraska Major Land Resource Areas - Trinity Baker
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 04/05/2022

The world’s population is growing and an increasing populace requires more resources. These requirements place increasing pressure on the environment and the soil. Soils serve many important functions throughout the world. These functions range from offering a media for food production, providing a sink for organic carbon, nutrient cycling, and improving water quality. It is important to focus on the human impact on soils and their change over time.

For my research I examined how soils across Nebraska have changed over a time period of roughly 65 years. I sampled and analyzed 39 pedonsfrom four Major Land Resource Areas (MLRAs) across the state of Nebraska. These sites were selected because they each represent a distinctive combination of climate, geology, and land use within Nebraska. At the time of original sampling (1951-1961), nearly all the sites were under row-crop production. I created a correlation for estimating soil organic carbon for four MLRAs using loss-on-ignition organic matter values. Next, I examined how the soils in MLRAs 67 and 71 have changed over 65 years of continued irrigation and agricultural production. Lastly, I assessed how the soils MLRAs 102 and 106have changed after 65 years of non-irrigated agricultural production.

Impacts of Irrigation on a Precipitation Event During GRAINEX in the High Plains Aquifer Region - Daniel Whitesel
  • Thesis Defense
  • 03/29/2022

Land use land cover change, including irrigation, impacts weather and climate. In this thesis a precipitation event that occurred during the Great Plains Irrigation Experiment (GRAINEX) is investigated. The event was observed on the morning of 23 July 2018. Six model-based experiments were conducted which involved increase or decrease of soil moisture by 5% and up to 15% over the irrigated croplands. These changes were approximation of soil moisture content in response to different levels of irrigation applications. An additional experiment, where irrigated land use was changed to grassland, was conducted to capture pre-irrigation land use and its impacts. It was found that regardless of level of irrigation, average precipitation decreased. However, precipitation decrease was greater under drier conditions. In addition, as observed, the model did not produce precipitation over non-irrigated land use. When grassland replaced the irrigated agriculture, increases in precipitation was reported. With increased irrigation, latent heat flux increased compared to control simulation and decreased when irrigation decreased. On the other hand, sensible heat flux was decreased compared to control when irrigation increased. The planetary boundary layer over irrigated land use was shallower than over non-irrigated land use while over grassland it was higher than irrigated but lower than non-irrigated land use. The changes in precipitation, the surface energy balance, and the planetary boundary layer served as a reminder of irrigation’s complex effects on the atmosphere. Additional analysis of the other precipitation events during GRAINEX would be helpful to better understand the effects of irrigation.

Bridging Boundaries in Stakeholder Engagement - Jodi Delozier
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 03/28/2022

Natural resource professionals, political leaders, and environmental organizations recognize the need for more informed and educated stakeholders to tackle today’s complex natural resource challenges. This dissertation investigates the nature of stakeholder engagement and its influence on natural resource management. The purpose of this study is to: 1) examine the attitudes that influence agricultural producers’ involvement in stakeholder engagement and community capacity building, 2) determine if boundary spanning skills can be developed through a professional development program, and 3) investigate the role of boundary spanners within a stakeholder-directed engagement process. Data was collected from interviews of Nebraska agricultural producers and natural resource professionals with experience in stakeholder engagement and from a survey of Nebraska Water Leaders Academy participants and their raters.

The first study explores the factors that enable or constrain agricultural producers’ engagement and community capacity building in Nebraska. A survey of agricultural producers was conducted identifying several barriers to producer participation. The findings also included enabling factors which may act as an incentive for more engagement by producers. The second study develops and evaluates an evidence-based boundary spanner development program for natural resource professionals. Nebraska Water Leaders Academy participants were asked to take part in a boundary spanner workshop as part of the year-long Academy and surveyed to assess their boundary spanning skills. The third study investigates boundary spanning skills evident among participants in an eighteen-month stakeholder engagement process in Nebraska. Twenty-five participant interviews were conducted covering a range of issues to determine if individuals participating in the stakeholder-directed engagement process exhibited boundary spanning skills and if so, how these skills were applied in practice.

These three research projects identify strategies that can lead to more effective and sustainable stakeholder engagement processes and highlight the challenges inherent in bringing a diverse group of individuals together to solve complex natural resource concerns.

Impacts of Anthropogenic Pressures on Ocelots (Leopardus Pardalis) in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala - Gabriela Palomo-Munoz
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 01/14/2022
IMPACTS OF ANTHROPOGENIC PRESSURES ON OCELOTS (LEOPARDUS PARDALIS) IN THE MAYABIOSPHERE RESERVE IN GUATEMALA By Gabriela Palomo-Munoz Advisor:Andrew J Tyre and co-advisor Jeffrey Thompson January 14th 2022 9:00 CST via Zoom. Request link via DM or Abstract Ocelots are a Neotropical mesocarnivore distributed from the South of Texas to northern Argentina.Despite being one of the most studied mesocarnivores, there is still need to understand the effects of human activities on their populations.The Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in Guatemala is a human impacted landscape that ranges from highly protected areas, sustainable forest concessions, to areas with human activities (e.g., cattle ranching,agriculture,urbanization).The MBR provides a study area in which we can investigate the anthropogenic effects on ocelots' demography and behavior. We estimated the effects of human activities on ocelot's density and space use.We also quantified the effects of forest integrity on jaguars, pumas.gray foxes, and ocelots space use, co-occurrence, and spatio-temporal patterns. Despite ocelots' tolerance to human activities, their populations heavily rely on permeable matrices surrounded by protected areas. Our results contribute to our understanding on ocelot ecology in modified landscapes.
Soil Microbial Community Dynamics in Response to Prescribed Extreme Burns of Juniperus virginiana Invasive to the Loess Canyons of Nebraska - Julie Fowler
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/30/2021
In Nebraska and other regions of the Great Plains, the conifer Juniperus virginiana (J. virginiana, eastern redcedar) is converting grasslands to dense woodlands. This is driven by the interacting drivers of fire suppression, altered grazing regimes, climate change and other anthropogenic factors, impacting the provisioning of ecosystem services. This vegetation regime shift modifies water resource regulation and biogeochemical cycles leading to altered edaphic properties including soil microbial community composition. To restore these grasslands and control J. virginiana spread, prescribed extreme burns are implemented as a management tool through local prescribed burn associations. We hypothesized that the alternative stable state shift to dense J. virginiana woodlands leads to a corresponding stable state shift below-ground that persists post-extreme burn and may facilitate J. virginiana re-establishment. To address this hypothesis, paired grasslands and J. virginiana woodlands in the Loess Canyons of Central Nebraska were subjected to one prescribed extreme burn between 2005 and 2019 to provide a natural burn chronosequence. We quantified J. virginiana re-establishment, soil chemistry, soil microbial biomass and microbial community composition in these paired sites across the chronosequence. Our results partially supported our hypothesis where differences in edaphic variables between J. virginiana sites and grassland sites observed post-burn were largely temporary; however, differences in soil magnesium and microbial community composition were more persistent (> 14 years post-burn). Soil magnesium values were significantly higher in the J. virginiana sites both pre-burn and post-burn across the 14 year chronosequence. Microbial communities were also distinct between J. virginiana and grassland sites pre-burn and across the burn chronosequence. Rapid recovery and/or persistence of specific edaphic factors and soil microbial communities in J. virginiana woodlands post-burn may facilitate early J. virginiana re-establishment. Management at intervals less than 14 years is needed to prevent long term changes to soil function that may facilitate J. virginiana re-establishment.
Comparison of Vadose Zone Nitrate-N to 50-Year Record of Nitrogen Fertilizer Inputs on Nebraska Cropland - Kobi Benao
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/29/2021
Nitrogen (N) fertilizer is an essential nutrient for agricultural production worldwide, especially in Nebraska where corn requires a large amount. Historical N fertilizer input and poor environmental management practices resulted in unintended consequences in the ecosystem and environment. Lack of spatially complete N fertilizer application time series data in the US, in particular, the state of Nebraska makes N fertilizer quantification in the vadose zone challenging. The state of Nebraska needs spatial time series fertilizer maps to better address its N fertilizer input and potential nitrate-N (NO3--N) migration and storage in the vadose zone (VZ). This thesis assesses 50 years of Nebraska's spatial N fertilizer inputs on cropland, cropping patterns, timings of application, and soil type impact to NO3--N leaching and compares it with the estimated VZ NO3--N mass stored in the Bazile area and the Lower Platte South Natural Resources Districts (LPSNRD).
Extraction and Analysis of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Wastewater Matrices to Determine Environmental Loading in the Midwest - Justin Caniglia
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/22/2021
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a recalcitrant suite of chemicals that are environmentally persistent and have been detected worldwide in numerous human and environmental matrices. Human exposure to PFAS has been associated with a myriad of human health impacts due to their carcinogenic nature. A better understanding of various transportation routes that instigate human and environmental exposure in the Midwest will assist communities in making management decisions regarding PFAS usage and treatment. However, current PFAS research is limited due to existing analytical constraints and limitations. This thesis focuses on assessing current extraction methodologies for PFAS for four environmental matrices (POCIS, non-potable water, solids, plant tissue) and a study looking at the transportation of PFAS within a wastewater treatment plant, adjacent surface waters, and agricultural ecosystem land applied with municipal biosolids for a better assessment of PFAS within the Midwest.
Assessment and Visualization of Controls on Groundwater Transport and Nitrate Contamination - Mikaela Cherry
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 11/03/2021
Groundwater is an essential resource throughout Nebraska. Land use and climate change can impact groundwater quality and quantity, both of which are necessary for sustaining agriculture, industry, and human consumption. A better understanding of various factors that influence groundwater movement and contamination will assist water managers in making management decisions. However, since groundwater is not as easily visualized as surface water, it can be difficult and costly to create a complete picture of the subsurface environment and different factors impacting groundwater quality and quantity. This dissertation focuses on groundwater seasonality (when groundwater infiltrates below the root zone), a novel remote sensing approach for assessing groundwater quality, and a case study looking at groundwater recharge and nitrate movement around a groundwater mound and how these different methods can come together to form a more cohesive understanding of the subsurface to assist groundwater managers in decision making.
Application of Proximal and Remote Sensing Methods for Estimating Important Morphological and Ecophysiological Plant Traits - Tasos Mazis
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 07/29/2021

Monitoring vegetation dynamics in an efficient and non-invasive way has become increasingly more important for assessing and modeling their responses to the environment and mitigating for climate change. Vegetation optical properties can be used to derive vegetation indices (VIs) which can be used as proxy measures for plants’ biophysical traits. The goal of this dissertation is to use proximal and remote sensing techniques to identify scalable indices and indicators that can be used efficiently to assess vegetation health and performance. The dissertation consists of four studies, each of which tackles different ecological questions utilizing proximal and/or remote sensing methods.

Results from this study are important for the ability to monitor vegetation shifts across multiple scales, important for predicting directional changes of these ecosystems in the face of anthropogenic management and climate change, and the development of effective mitigation plans.

Rancher preferences for payment for ecosystem services program in Nebraska's grasslands - Kyle Martens
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/19/2021

The idea of "working landscapes" has received considerable notoriety as a tool to better engage with private landowners for the purposes of conservation. These frameworks often rely on top-down approaches that do not account for the socioeconomic conditions of rural areas nor elicit feedback about program design or implementation from its participants. Through a discrete choice analysis, we asked ranchers across Nebraska's remaining grassland ecoregions to assess a series of program offerings that would compensate participants for an array of conservation and environmental objectives. Using an ecosystem services framework, adapted to Nebraska’s statewide wildlife management plan (Nebraska Natural Legacy Project), we explore what attributes of "conservation ranching" are most preferable and why such an approach is necessary for both public and private interests.

Social and Ecological Correlates of Avian Infection by Haemosporidian Blood Parasites - Ian Hoppe
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/19/2021

Haemosporidian parasites are a significant source of morbidity and mortality for birds. However, factors influencing haemosporidian transmission, especially transmission between species, are poorly understood. To gain insight into these influences, we compared prevalence and diversity of haemosporidian blood parasite infections among avian species in a behaviorally and ecologically diverse host assemblage. We studied whether interspecific associations could explain community-wide trends in infection by pairing molecular diagnostics with direct observations of species interactions. Haemosporidian prevalence in the community was low (8.6%), but varied substantially with host phylogeny. Most (94.8% of all infections) infections were identified as Haemoproteus spp. Few Plasmodium spp. infections were detected, and no Leucocytozoon spp. infections were found. We found no evidence for an effect of interspecific sociality on Haemoproteus infections, but we did find evidence for an effect of intraspecific sociality. Individuals of species that had smaller average conspecific group sizes were more likely to be infected than those of species with larger groups. We also found that species with relatively long lifespans had higher prevalences than species with shorter lifespans. No other individual- or species-level traits were associated with Haemoproteus infection. We identified 7 Haemoproteus mitochondrial cytochrome b lineages, which clustered at the host family level. Two Plasmodium lineages were also identified, each of which was previously detected in different host species in the region. The apparent host-family specificity of the parasite lineages may partly explain the lack of effect of interspecific sociality on Haemoproteus infection probability, and implies the presence of barriers to transmission that are associated with host phylogeny.

A Biological and Chemical Approach to Restoring Water Quality in an Urban Eutrophic Pond - Levi McKercher
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/16/2021

Efforts to improve water quality in eutrophic ponds often involve implementing changes to watershed management practices to reduce external nutrient loads. While this is required for long-term recovery and prevention, eutrophic conditions are often sustained by the recycling of internal nutrients already present within the water body. In particular, internal phosphorus loads have been shown to delay lake recovery for decades. Thus, in-situ pond management techniques are needed that not only reduce external nutrient loading over the long-term but also mitigate the effects of internal nutrients already present. Our objective was to demonstrate a biological and chemical approach to remove and sequester nutrients present or entering a eutrophic pond. We designed a novel biological and chemical management technique by constructing a 37 m2 (6.1 m x 6.1 m) floating treatment wetland (FTW) coupled with a slow-release lanthanum composite inserted inside an airlift pump. The FTW promoted microbial denitrification and plant uptake of N and P, while the airlift pump slowly delivered lanthanum to the water column over the season to adsorb and precipitate soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP). The design was tested at the microcosm and field scales, where N and P removal was significant (α=0.05) at the microcosm scale and validated at the field scale. The proposed treatment provides a unique and effective technology to address internal phosphorus loads and minimize the effects of nutrient runoff entering urban retention ponds.

Understanding and Contextualizing Foraging among Recreational Opportunities in the North Central United States - Iris McFarlin
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/14/2021

Over the past few decades, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of foraging for wild products and foods. Despite the cultural importance and ubiquity of foraging, there have been relatively few scientific investigations of social factors influencing foraging behavior, landscape preferences, and the types of materials foraged in the United States. As such, there is a fundamental need to better understand more about those who participate and their foraging behaviors. Two surveys were conducted to gather information on foragers’ motivations and characteristics and to contextualize foraging within the larger recreation landscape. The first survey used snowball sampling to reach foragers throughout the United States and collected information on motivations, types of land foraged, and the type of taxa foraged. Results indicated that respondents were motivated to relax and escape, to feel self-empowered and know about food sourcing, and for the social benefits of participation. We grouped respondents into four clusters based on motivations: 1) self-empowered foragers, 2) multimotivation foragers, 3) casual foragers, and 4) social foragers. While there were differences in in the reasons why individuals forage, there was little difference among the socio-demographic variables as well as where and what they forage.

A second survey was used to estimate the recreational demand among 16 recreational activities among the general population of Nebraska. The results indicated that approximately 13% of the Nebraska population engaged in at least one day of foraging. While activities such as recreational sports, spectator sports, culture and arts were more preferred than foraging, other outdoor activities such as hunting & shooting sports, fishing, and wildlife viewing were less preferred than foraging. Older Nebraskans gained more utility from foraging than their younger counterparts, but there was little difference in utility gained among other sociodemographic factors. Further, there was indication that foraging by Nebraskans was already at satiation, whereas other activities like the arts and culture were still not at satiation. By understanding the behaviors and motivations of foragers and how foraging fits into the recreation landscape, we gained further insight into the importance of foraging and the behaviors of those participating, which has important implications in the formulation of appropriate policies and management of recreational opportunities.

Soils Morphology and Carbon Stocks of Playa Wetlands in Eastern Nebraska, USA - Aubrey Kemper
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/12/2021

Wetlands contribute important ecosystem services such as water filtration and storage, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration. The objective of this study was to compare both the morphology and the carbon and nitrogen stocks between the upland, basin edge, and basin floor in playa wetlands of eastern Nebraska. This work was conducted in three playa wetlands in the Todd Valley. Morphological descriptions were evaluated to two meters’ depth using cores collected along three transects from the upland to the playa floor in three playas, carbon and nitrogen stocks were evaluated in two of those playas. Results show evidence of erosion, deposition, and both leaching and accumulation of clay in all three playas, and presence of calcium carbonate in one playa. In one playa, both carbon and nitrogen stocks were lower at the basin edge compared to the surrounding uplands and in the other, there was no significant difference in carbon and nitrogen stocks between the upland, basin edge, and playa floor. Morphological features of the soils show colluvium deposition and clay accumulation in two basins and calcium carbonate accumulation in one basin. Profile distributions of carbon suggest that the limited carbon storage in these playa wetlands is, at least in part, due to leaching losses of dissolved organic carbon. The playas of eastern Nebraska show evidence of colluvium deposition caused by human-accelerated erosion and, compared to other depressional wetlands in the region, a limited capacity to accumulate organic matter and store carbon.

Health is more than humans: a qualitative study exploring rural Tanzanian students’ perceptions of health at the human-animal-ecosystem interface. - Brianne Wolf
  • Thesis Defense
  • 06/28/2021
One Health, or the holistic approach of viewing human, animal and ecosystem health as interconnected, can play an important role in developing solutions to address diverse health challenges. For young people to grasp contemporary societal and planetary challenges, this understanding is critical. Using data collected through a classroom activity and an iterative coding approach, I analyzed art and written elements developed by primary school students in a biodiverse, rural region of Tanzania to explore their understanding of links among the health of people, animals, and local environments. The students perceived human health in an expansive way, tying it to the health of domestic animals and wildlife, water sources, forests, and ecosystems. They drew varied connections, identifying both direct and indirect impacts on their own health, as well as the broader health of their communities. The students made connections at microscopic and landscape levels, including issues of polluted water and disease and impacts of forests on rainfall and drought. Learning how students understand these connections can aid the efforts of teachers and environmental and health educators in the region, as well as inform curriculum development for students in Tanzania, East Africa, and beyond.
Developing a Method for Timely Estimates of Annual Forage Production to Inform Drought Decision Making - Marketa Podebradska
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 06/22/2021
High interannual variability of forage production in semi-arid grasslands leads to uncertainty when livestock producers make decisions. To inform proactive drought decision making at the ranch level, I developed a largescale model that estimates the amount of annual forage production using environmental and weather variables and the remote sensing-based Normalized Difference Vegetation Index as a proxy for grassland productivity. This model can be used with up-to-date spring climate data and summer climate scenarios (e.g., warm and dry, cool and wet) to create a range of possible end-of-season forage scenarios in a specific year. When provided on an operational basis, these scenarios can serve as a decision support tool for livestock producers, rangeland managers, and other decision makers.
Describing How Students Make Decisions About Complex Issues - Citlally Jimenez
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 04/13/2021

Through a mixed methods approach, my work explored students’ decision-making practices as they worked through a structured decision-making tool to reason about socioscientific issues (e.g., how do we manage water?). The resulting tools can help researchers explore how students:

  • Provide reasoning using interdisciplinary evidence
  • Engage with tradeoffs in their decision-making process
Impacts of Irrigated Agriculture on the Near Surface and Planetary Boundary Layer Atmosphere: Results from the Great Plains Irrigation Experiment (GRAINEX) - Emilee Lachenmeier
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/23/2020

Modification of natural prairie grasslands into irrigated and rainfed agriculture in the Great Plains produced significant impacts on regional weather and climate including temperatures, precipitation, energy fluxes, and the planetary boundary layer (PBL) atmosphere. The Great Plains Irrigation Experiment (GRAINEX) during the 2018 growing season collected data over irrigated and non-irrigated crop fields to further understand these impacts. The data were collected during two intensive observation periods (IOPs) in early June (IOP 1: 30 May – 13 June of 2018) and late July (IOP 2: 16 July – 30 July of 2018). The data analyzed include latent (LE) and sensible (H) heat fluxes, air temperature, dew point temperature, specific humidity, and equivalent temperature (moist enthalpy). PBL and lower tropospheric development was assessed using radiosonde data. In addition, near surface soil moisture data collected during IOP 1 and 2 were used to model and subsequent analysis of root zone soil moisture utilizing Wang et al. (2017) Exponential Filter Model. The results from this extensive analysis of the GRAINEX data set will be presented for the consideration of the degree of Master of Science. Committee members include Rezaul Mahmood, Trenton Franz and Michael Hayes.

An Analysis of Food Systems Resilience in Nigeria - Azariah Lawal
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/13/2020

Disturbances are inherent in every socio-ecological system (SES). However, the spate and scope of upheavals in contemporary SES has increased dramatically in recent years. These events, which have a global reach, include earthquakes in Mexico, hurricanes in the Caribbean and severe floods in India. Agricultural systems are perhaps the most impacted when disasters occur because different aspects of agricultural production are directly affected. The burgeoning farmers-Fulani herdsmen conflict in West Africa is a manifestation of these challenges. The industrial revolution, the 1930s Dust Bowl, and the current COVID-19 pandemic are examples of events that transformed, or are transforming, agricultural systems. When faced with events like these, contemporary food systems are faced with two options: collapse or transform. It is essential to have resilient agricultural systems because these systems lie at the nexus of resolving emerging global issues.

Nigeria is an important country in western Africa; it is the most populous African country. Agriculture play an indispensable role in the country employing two-thirds of the labor force. However the sector is bedeviled by a plethora of challenges like outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land, very low adoption of irrigation, limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs, poor access to credit, inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets. Despite these challenges, it is the world’s largest producer of Cassava with about 50 million metric tons produced annually. The average yield of 13.63 metric tons (MT) per ha, against potential yield of up to 40 MT per ha (FAO, 2020), this huge difference between current yield and potential yield underscores the importance of resilience. In Agricultural systems resilience analysis research, the work of Meuwissen et al. (2018) stands out. They developed a five-step framework (“Resilience of what?”, “Resilience to what?”, “Resilience for what”, “Resilience Capacities”, “Resilience enhancing attributes”), which was used in this work to analyze the resilience of food systems in Nigeria. This is an important research because after decades of reliance on crude oil, the government is now going back to an agriculture driven economy. We conclude that food systems in Nigeria have been at the reorientation phase of the adaptive cycle and that there is need for increased stakeholder involvement, particularly at the government level, to help farmers harness the benefits of resilience in the system.

Population Demographics, Distribution, and Environmental History of Asian Carp in a Great Plains River - Jake Werner
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/12/2020

Silver Carp Hypophthalmichthys molitrix, Bighead Carp H. nobilis, and Black Carp Mylopharyngodon piceus, collectively known as Asian carp, are a group of invasive fishes in the U.S. that have garnered much attention over the last couple decades. Most research devoted to this group of fishes has been focused in the Mississippi River basin with little investigation in the Missouri River drainage, particularly in tributary systems. The Kansas River is a major tributary to the Missouri River that has multiple anthropogenic barriers creating varying levels of connectivity within the Kansas River itself, and with the Missouri River. Information on various life history traits of Asian carp are needed before a management plan can be formed. Here, we investigated 1) population demographics, 2) distribution with environmental DNA (eDNA), and 3) environmental history using otolith microchemistry of Asian carp in the lower Kansas River. Silver Carp exhibited spatiotemporal differences in population demographics. Individuals captured above the lowermost barrier had longer lengths-at-age, longer total lengths, and occurred at lower relative abundance than individuals captured below the barrier. Neither Silver Carp nor Bighead Carp were detected above the second barrier on the river with mechanical sampling or with the eDNA assay. However, Black Carp were detected near the confluence with the Missouri River with the eDNA analysis. Otolith microchemistry results indicated the population of Silver Carp in the Kansas River is comprised of predominantly residential individuals. Few carp exhibited natal origin signatures of the Missouri River. Transient individuals within the population exhibited short durations of signatures indicative of the Missouri River, suggesting that movements into the Missouri River are brief. These results highlight the importance of tributary habitat for Asian carp in the Missouri River drainage. Management efforts within the Kansas River could be effective means of population control and mitigating secondary introductions. Additionally, management efforts focused in particular reaches of the Kansas River could affect the greater Missouri River population.

Population Characteristics and Movement of Blue Catfish in the Kansas River - Quintin Dean
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/09/2020
Blue catfish Ictalurus furcatus are a mobile, large-river species native to the Missouri River and its tributaries, including the Kansas River. Historical data regarding the Kansas River population is negligible, limiting managers’ ability to appropriately manage this population. Multiple anthropogenic barriers along the Kansas River create a gradient of connectivity within the Kansas River, and with the Missouri River, possibly limiting Blue Catfish movement. Additionally, the contribution of tributary reservoir populations to the Kansas River remains unknown. My objectives were to: 1) describe the population characteristics and 2) quantify stock contributions from the Missouri River and Kansas River tributary reservoirs to the lower Kansas River population. Relative abundance and condition were variable among years with little variation across the gradient of connectivity. Somatic growth of disconnected reaches were greater than connected reaches; however, the mean length of adult age classes were consistent across the study area. River segments connected with the Missouri River had lower annual mortality and higher proportions of large fish compared to disconnected reaches. Upstream passage was not documented at the second barrier on the Kansas River, suggesting the population upstream of the barrier is isolated from the Missouri River. Adult fish collected within river reaches connected to the Missouri River displayed relatively equal natal contributions from the Kansas River and Missouri River. Half of adult and juvenile fish sampled in reaches disconnected from the Missouri River originated from Kansas River tributary reservoirs. Our data suggests adopting two spatial scales for investigating and managing Blue Catfish in the Kansas River, with the second barrier as a point of division. Current state-wide regulations are adequate for maintaining high trophy-potential in downstream river reaches. The large number of fish using the Missouri River indicates appropriate management requires a broad spatial scale that incorporates a dendritic river network framework. Future monitoring efforts, particularly for the disconnected reaches, is imperative as large reservoir stock contributions may elicit change in population characteristics.
Prairie Grouse Population Trends and their Historical Drivers in the Nebraska Sandhills - Dani Berger
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/24/2020
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) has monitored greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus) and plains sharp-tailed grouse populations (Tympanuchus phasianellus jamesi), collectively known as prairie grouse, since the 1950s using spring breeding ground counts and wing-ratio data collected from harvested birds in the fall. These indices have been used to evaluate population trends, but may be able to provide insight into the processes that drive patterns in the counts if related in space and time to environmental factors. An understanding of the processes shaping populations is of particular importance to prairie grouse because both greater prairie-chickens and sharp-tailed grouse are of conservation concern in portions of their respective ranges. My research modeled long-term, species-specific spatial and temporal trends of prairie grouse abundance and production and their drivers in the Nebraska Sandhills using NGPC’s historical prairie grouse monitoring data. Prairie-chicken populations have increased since the 1950s while sharp-tailed grouse populations have remained stable or slightly declined. Production of both species has decreased over time. These population trends arise in the context of a dynamic landscape. I created indices representing raptor predation and hunting pressure, cropland, hay and CRP acreage, cattle stocking rate, drought and winter severity, landscape-level factors known to influence prairie grouse populations via mechanisms supported in the literature. I used a Ricker population process model in a Bayesian state-space framework to explore the relationship between species-specific breeding ground count data and environmental covariates with a one-year time lag. I incorporated indicator variable selection into the model to determine which covariates most strongly influence population trends. The most competitive greater prairie-chicken model included negative density dependence (β = -0.003, SD = 0.000, BCI = -0.004- -0.003) and a positive effect of increased precipitation (β = 0.046, SD = 0.021, BCI = 0.005-0.089) on population growth rates, while the sharp-tailed grouse model that received the most support included negative density dependence (β = -0.005, SD = 0.001, BCI = -0.007- -0.003) and a negative effect of increasing cropland acres (β = -0.084, SD = 0,041, BCI = -0.168- -0.005). The effect of grazing was also strongly supported for both species, although the effect was positive for prairie chickens and negative for sharp-tailed grouse. Although prairie-chickens and sharp-tailed grouse have traditionally been managed as a single species because of their similar resource needs, my findings suggest that prairie grouse conservation measures may be more successful if they are species-specific. My study provides a framework for wildlife managers to use existing count-based monitoring records and free, publicly-available environmental data to explore population drivers in addition to abundance trends.
Space use and resource selection of bighorn sheep (ovis canadensis) ewes in a prairie badlands population - Erin Wood
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/23/2020
The basic spatial ecology and habitat relationships of female bighorn sheep in Nebraska are poorly understood. Establishing seasonal patterns of space use and resource selection for this population at the margin of their historical and current range addresses a key knowledge gap and provides important baseline information for ongoing conservation efforts in Nebraska. We investigated behavioral attributes of bighorn sheep in western Nebraska with a focus on understanding how this reintroduced population uses the landscape at the eastern periphery of the range of the species. To investigate spatial ecology, we quantified movements of ewes and the factors that influence home range size, seasonal use, and spatial stability across seasons. We also quantified resource selection patterns of female bighorn sheep within their home ranges and inferred factors that influence resource selection with a focus on predation risk, forage efficiency, and human disturbance. Our work elucidated behavioral patterns of female bighorn sheep in Nebraska that may influence their survival and reproductive success. Our results should contribute to our understanding of the factors limiting population growth for this declining population of conservation concern.
Using Return Intervals and Nutrient Spiraling to Examine the 2019 Nebraska, USA Flood - Alexa Davis
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/16/2020

In March of 2019, many of Nebraska’s streams and rivers had the worst flooding in decades, and in some locations, the worst flooding on record occurred. The historic floods in Nebraska presented an optimal case study to examine how current technological resources can be used to enhance our understanding of floods and how these floods impact in situ stream ecosystem processes like nitrogen and phosphorus cycling. Currently, there are only a few resources available to quantify the extent of floods. However, by analyzing the discharge records of 94 streams across the state, flood stage records and calculated flood return intervals. While the flood stage was reached primarily along streams in the Niobrara, Platte, and Elkhorn River watersheds, seventeen streams across the state had a flood return interval of over 100 years. The average return interval was 48 years ± 73. We also compared nutrient spiraling metrics in ten streams across the state in the summer before and after the flood to compare the flood impacts on stream ecosystem processes. There were no differences (p> 0.05) of NH4 or PO4 in uptake length (Sw), vertical velocity (Vf) ,or aerial uptake rate (U) between years. These data suggest Nebraska streams were resilient to the flood. Yet, given the high uptake lengths and low uptake velocity and areal uptake values, these data also suggest that small streams are enriched with N and P well beyond their biological demand for these nutrients. Furthering our knowledge of the quantification of floods and their impacts on stream ecosystem processes can help mitigate the deleterious consequences of floods.

Nitrate Dynamics and Source within Nested Watersheds of an Agricultural Stream, Nebraska, USA - Galen Richards
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/14/2020

Bazile Creek lies within the Bazile Groundwater Management Area, characterized by high (>10 mg/L) groundwater nitrate concentrations originating from nonpoint sources. The purpose of the research was to determine how nitrate concentrations and source in Bazile Creek vary throughout the watershed and over time. Surface water nitrate samples were collected monthly from July 2018 through September 2019, and δ15N/δ18O nitrate isotope samples were collected seasonally and after three summer rain events. Surface water nitrate concentrations varied seasonally in the main channel and most tributaries, with nitrate concentrations being highest in the winter. Analysis of soils and land use indicated that nitrate was leaching from fields into the underlying aquifer, eventually entering streams as groundwater discharge. Seasonal and rain event nitrate isotope sampling showed that the primary nitrate source was ammonium from fertilizer, and evidence of seasonal microbial denitrification was also detected. The results of this research showed that surface water nitrate concentrations in an agricultural watershed can vary substantially over small distances, and that sub-watershed scale factors such as land use play a role in dictating surface water nitrate concentrations. The collection of nitrate isotope samples was shown to be beneficial, providing insight on source and seasonal denitrification. This research will provide data for future projects in the area, and ultimately aid in the development of targeted best management practices tasked with reducing overall nitrate loading to Bazile Creek.

Vegetation and Large Carnivore Responses in an Encroached Landscape - Hugh Ellerman
  • Thesis Defense
  • 06/19/2020

The Great Plains biome supports biodiverse plant and animal communities, provides a wide array of ecosystem services, and is depended upon by agricultural economies. Despite these advantages, however, Great Plains grasslands are becoming increasingly degraded by land cover changes due to agriculture and urbanization, fragmentation, loss of biodiversity and invasion by woody species. Woody encroachment is a biome-wide threat to Great Plains plant and wildlife communities and is therefore managed, though with variable success. I investigated the efficacy of invasive tree management projects in restoring tallgrass prairies in southeast Nebraska and regenerating oak gallery forests along the Niobrara River. I measured plant community species composition and frequency at 9 sites in southeast Nebraska to quantify woody reinvasion of restored grasslands. Along the Niobrara River, I surveyed oak-planted plots and quantified oak survival and plant community abundance at 7 sites to determine success of restorations. In each case, restorations had mixed, but mostly negative results. Management decisions following initial treatment of invasive trees compromised the long term success of restorations. Management is therefore a process, not an action, and must extend beyond initial treatment if restorations are to sustain native plant communities. I also studied habitat use of the newly establishing cougar (Puma concolor) as they recolonize Nebraska. I used radio-collar locations of 2 cougars to evaluate habitat preferences in a use-availability design. Cougars selected riparian woodlands, but crops and tree plantings may play a role as habitat corridors.

Comprehensive and Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories for Nebraska and the Midwest as Baselines for Climate Change Mitigation - Eric Holley
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 04/23/2020

Climate change is the paramount challenge of today for a sustainable future and mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is necessary to reduce the associated risks and impacts on society. Inventories of GHG emissions are a method to provide a basis to develop effective and sustainable mitigation plans. Using the EPA’s state inventory tool and literature review, comprehensive GHG-emissions inventories were developed for the state of Nebraska over 25 years (1990-2015) and agricultural GHG emissions inventories were developed for the Midwest U.S for one year (2016). Nebraska’s net emissions increased from 56.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMtCO2e) in 1990 to 87.4 MMtCO2e in 2016. Agriculture was found to be the sector with the most emissions (36 MMtCO2e ), primarily from beef cattle, followed by electricity generation (21 MMtCO2e ), primarily from coal. Emissions in Nebraska were found to be 47.4 MMtCO2e per capita in 2015, compared to 20.6 in the U.S. due to concentrated agricultural emissions and low population. Total agricultural GHG emissions per state in the Midwest in 2016 were found to range from 10.3 MMtCO2e (Michigan) to 41.0 MMtCO2e (Iowa), with an average of 23.3 MMtCO2e. In 2016, Wisconsin was the least efficient state (0.86 MtCO2e /kg product) and Illinois was the most efficient (0.34 MtCO2e /kg product) in terms of emissions per product, which aligned with these states having the highest (71.5%) and lowest (21%) percentage of livestock, respectively. Agricultural emissions per capita ranged from 1.0 MtCO2e (MI) to 26.2 MtCO2e (SD), driven by cattle population and, largely, state population.

A review of literature was also conducted to explore the interactions between climate change and the insurance industry. Climatic events accounted for 91% of $1.05 trillion in insured costs for global catastrophic events from 1980 to 2016. Costs are driven by socio-economic development and increased frequency and severity of climatic disasters exacerbated by climate change. Insurance feedbacks in response to disaster events caused by climate change include changes in 1) premiums and insurance policies, 2) non-coverage, and 3) policy making and litigation. Alongside government policies, insurance feedbacks could be used to facilitate and manage climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The Effects of Temperature on Evacuation Rates and Absorption Efficiency of Flathead Catfish - Zach Horstman
  • Thesis Defense
  • 03/31/2020
Knowledge of fish gastric evacuation rates (GER) is a necessary component for both field and laboratory studies when trying to understand feeding rates, modeling energy budgets, and understanding trophic dynamics of aquatic ecosystems. Many freshwater fish encounter a broad range of environmental temperatures across life history stages, but the mechanistic link between temperature and physiological processes often remains poorly understood. We designed three recirculating aquatic systems capable of rearing Flathead Catfish Plyodictis olivaris in order to quantify GER and gross energy absorption at three temperatures (17oC, 22oC and 25oC). We examined the relationship between temperature and its influences on consumption, GER, and meal passage through the intestines of juvenile Flathead Catfish fed a single ration of food. We then used bomb calorimetry to examine the absorption efficiencies of juvenile Flathead Catfish by quantifying the proportion of calories remaining in dissected stomach and intestinal contents through time and by treatment. Treatment (temperature) was found to significantly affect consumption, GER, and the potential for gross calorie absC>rption within the intestines of juvenile Flathead Catfish. Insight into the GER of juvenile Flathead Catfish provides managers with a better understanding of consumption demands of these important top predators, and our results begin to shed light on the bioenergetics of this species.
In Hot Water: Influence of Multiple Stressors on Thermal Tolerance of Fathead Minnows Pimephales promelas - Alex Engel
  • Thesis Defense
  • 03/24/2020
Freshwater aquatic systems around the globe are often subjected to physical, biological, and chemical alterations to support societal needs. The Great Plains contains one of the largest agricultural industries in North America, but its productivity has ecological repercussions for adjacent freshwater ecosystems. Specifically, the dependency on surface water irrigation and application of chemical treatments has altered the thermal and chemical composition of freshwater ecosystems throughout the region. Stressors such as elevated temperatures, altered flow regimes, increased contaminant loads affect the physiology and behavior of fishes and can lead to long-term population effects. We examined thermal tolerance of Fathead minnows Pimephales pro me las in two experiments, 1) after exposure to atrazine and 2) after an acute thermal stressor. Understanding the thermal dynamics of Fathead minnows and the influence of multiple stressors on thermal tolerance will provide insights into how changing environmental conditions will affect native fish populations. Furthermore, we hope this knowledge will allow managers to more effectively concentrate conservation efforts.
Charismatic Predators in Modern Africa: Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) and Human Coexistence in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Botswana - Jasmin Castillo
  • Thesis Defense
  • 03/12/2020
Despite having the lowest population living in urban areas, the African continent currently has the greatest growing population rate at 2.53% with a population of 1.2 billion people. Spotted hyenas hold a unique place in African ecosystems due to being a very successful predator with an adaptable diet while many of the other predators are rapidly decreasing in abundance. The Northern Tuli Game Reserve (NTGR) was established in the mid-1960s with initially low predator populations. Predator calling stations were conducted in 2008, 2009, 2015, and 2016 to determine changes in abundance and distribution of spotted hyenas within NTGR. In 2014, a leopard occupancy study provided by-catch data to analyze brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) and spotted hyena occupancy in NTGR. We anticipate this project to being a building block in better management ofNTGR for future research. Understanding the ecological dynamics of spotted hyenas and the impact of various types of human settlements throughout the reserve will aid in a better understanding of large predator coexistence as human populations continue to increase.
Exploring New Opportunities for Drought Risk Assessment and Awareness to Enhance Drought Risk Management at the Local Levels - Elliot Wickham
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 11/07/2019

Drought risk management in the United States has traditionally taken the form of drought plans at the state-level. Although drought planning efforts have been increasing over time, drought is still a poorly understood hazard and drought planning efforts at the local levels, particularly in urban areas, generally focus on short-term crisis management practices to protect water supplies rather than long-term risk management practices that aim protect water supplies before a drought event. Successful drought risk management is built upon three pillars: (1) monitoring and early warning; (2) impact and vulnerability assessment; and (3) mitigation, preparedness, and response. This research focuses on the second and third pillars of drought risk management to provide the local levels new opportunities and approaches to reduce drought risk.

The first article in this dissertation is a national risk assessment of urban counties in the United States, where risk is a product of both physical drought characteristics and societal factors that enhance the impacts on water supplies. The second article evaluates survey data of land use planners across the United States, since land use planning has strong potential for drought risk management applications, but generally does not incorporate drought risk reduction strategies. The final article uses the findings of a drought-specific THIRA workshop (FEMA risk assessment process, focused solely on drought) in the Platte River Basin, NE to evaluate the current drought planning efforts in the study area. The three research topics of this work provide local jurisdictions, particularly urban areas, new opportunities and methodologies to switch from crisis management to risk management techniques that will help protect future water supplies from the combination of drought periods and increasing water demands.

Ecology of Cincindela Heamorrhagica in the Extreme Environments of thermal pools in Yellowstone National Park - Kelly Willemssens
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 10/30/2019

In 2006, Leon G. Higley noted a tiger beetle species, Cicindela haemorrhagica, walking and feeding in thermal pools of Yellowstone National Park (YNP). Although this species was first recorded in the park more than 100 years ago (Hubbard, 1891), its distribution, ecology, and association with thermal features are not known. In this study, we examined its distribution, abundance, and habitat characteristics to determine if they are exclusively associated with thermal springs and to determine the physical and chemical extremes in which these beetles can live. We transcribed their behavior to determine if they use thermoregulatory behavior to cope with the high temperatures associated with thermal springs. Lastly, we studied their lethal thermal maxima to determine if they have an increased thermal tolerance, which indicates a structural or physiological adaptation. Our results show that C. haemorrhagica are seemingly exclusively associated with thermal springs and are habitat (thermal spring) generalists. Springs range between pH 2.73 and 9.0, temperatures of 29.1 oand 70 o, and varying metal concentrations. However, all thermal springs were surrounded by barren soil with a gradual edge (gentle slope) towards the thermal water. We propose census and observations as the best methods to estimate the abundance for highly mobile species near thermal springs. Conservative population sizes of C. haemorrhagica ranged between 500-1500 individuals for thermal springs within YNP.

Cicindela haemorrhagica populations not associated with thermal springs have a strong positive correlation between thennoregulatory behavior and temperature (Pearson Correlation Coefficient = 0.276, p= 0.0127). In contrast, C. h. haemorrhagica populations inside YNP have a strong negative correlation between thermoregulatory behavior and temperature (Pearson Correlation Coefficient= -0.224, p= 0.0001). Interestingly, the YNP populations thermoregulate to heat up at cold temperatures, but do not use this strategy to cool off at high temperatures. To our knowledge, there is no other example of dramatically different behaviors between two populations of insects in the same species. This may indicate a thermophilic adaptation of these beetles to the thermal springs of YNP. However, the lethal thermal maxima of YNP C. h. haemorrhagica (50.41 oC +/- 0.26) is only 1.08 oC higher than non-thermal spring C. h. haemorrhagica ( 49.33 oC +/- 0.20) (Mixed model, p= 0.0023). Although these lethal thermal maxima are a new record for reproductive metazoans, it is not high enough to explain its occurrence at thermal springs as much as 70 oC.

These results indicate that C. haemorrhagica filled a new niche inside Yellowstone National Park where the benefits (i.e. carrion drifting ashore, high temperatures during the winter, reduced competition, among others) outweighed the costs (i.e. high temperatures, pH, and heavy metals). These beetles were able to adapt to the extreme conditions of the thermal springs in YNP causing them to behave differently than other tiger beetles, including C. haemorrhagica outside YNP. We can conclude that the mechanism used by these beetles are not behavioral nor physiological, but are more likely to be structural.

Using Post-Event Surveys of Rangeland Managers to Assess Adaptive Capacity - Tonya Haigh
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 10/25/2019

Rangeland managers face challenges to adapt to climate extremes. Post-event assessments might be useful for understanding managers' adaptive capacity to hazards such as drought. This study evaluates adaptive capacity using an integrated vulnerability and resilience conceptual model and protective action decision-making models. Overarching research questions include: 1) For rangeland managers experiencing drought, how should we describe the relationship between protective action and impacts? 2) For rangeland managers experiencing drought, what are the best predictors of taking protective action?

The study addresses these questions using quantitative data collected from two post-drought (2012-2013 and 2016) surveys of rangeland-based livestock managers in the Northern Great Plains of the U.S. Statistical analysis showed that drought management actions only lessened impacts if taken at appropriate times during the drought. The timing of protective actions was predicted by characteristics of the operation that provided management flexibility during drought, and was associated with managers' on-farm monitoring of conditions and perception of drought management knowledge as a barrier to their success. Neither the use of drought early warning information, nor having a drought plan, was associated with the timing of most actions.

Assessing adaptive capacity requires identifying the actions (and the timing of the actions) that lessen impact, as well as the characteristics of the system that enable or support those actions. The post-drought survey appears to be an effective means of assessing these relationships and informing decisions about investments in adaptive capacity for agricultural management.

Modeling Waterfowl Hunter and Duck Unlimited Member Behavior using Mark-Recapture Methods - Katherine Graham
  • Thesis Defense
  • 10/23/2019

The number of individuals participating in waterfowl hunting has substantially declined since the 1980s, despite relatively abundant waterfowl populations and hunting opportunities. To avoid further losses in political support for wildlife management, losses in habitat conservation revenue, and to broaden the base of waterfowl and wetland conservation support, there has been an increased focus on growing the number of waterfowl hunters, and waterfowl and wetland conservation supporters. The purpose of this study was to aid this goal by estimating resident waterfowl hunter and Ducks Unlimited (DU) member recruitment rates, retention probabilities, and license/membership purchase probabilities; to provide a better understanding of the factors influencing these populations, and to provide a foundation for measuring the success of R3 programs aimed at these populations.

To estimate both waterfowl hunter and DU member recruitment rates, retention probabilities, and license/membership purchase probabilities, we analyzed five state electronic license systems and DU membership databases (Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, South Dakota) using a Pradel model in a mark-recapture framework. We included five covariates (gender, generation, hunting opportunity, rurality, and DU membership class) to improve parameter estimates. For waterfowl hunters, the top models indicated that recruitment and retention rates decreased over time for all groups, and that while males had higher retention rates than females, females had higher recruitment rates. In addition, as DU membership class increased so did retention and license purchase probabilities. For DU members we found similar trends with males having higher retention rates and membership purchase probabilities than females, but females having higher recruitment rates. Additionally, we found in most states, that Baby Boomers had the highest retention and membership purchase probabilities compared to other generations. These results confirmed some assumptions that we have about both waterfowl hunters and DU members. Additionally, they suggest that social habitat for hunters and developing a conservationist's identity for DU members is important for recruitment and retention. These results can be used to both inform and evaluate future R3 programs focused on waterfowl hunters and DU members.

Traffic Noise and Sexual Selection: Studies of Anthropogenic Impact on Bird Songs and Undergraduate Student Reasoning of Evolutionary Mechanisms - Sarah Spier
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/01/2019

Humans have transformed much of the natural landscape, consequently changing wildlife behavior. The expansion of roads has contributed to our impact on wildlife by fragmenting habitat and introducing loud traffic noise into the environment. Birds are especially susceptible to traffic noise because they rely on singing for communication, establishing territory, and mating. Different bird species may respond differently to traffic noise. Through the first study, I show how traffic noise affects the detection of birds, specifically three different species with different songs. Conducting more experiments on individual species detection will help ecologists better understand how consequences of human behavior, like traffic noise, may influence the behavior of wildlife residing near roads.

The effect of human activity on the environment should be better understood by more than just ecologists, yet the general public lacks scientific understanding. For example, humans can impact evolutionary change, yet evolutionary concepts are challenging for people to understand and learn. When describing evolutionary change, many undergraduate biology students emphasize the importance of survival and natural selection in evolution and many leave out other important evolutionary ideas, such as reproductive potential and sexual selection. My second study shows how scenarios with different sexual selection contexts affected which ideas students included in their evolutionary reasoning.

Drought impacts assessment in Brazil - a remote sensing approach - Denis Mariano
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 06/28/2019
Climate extremes are expected to increase in frequency and intensity globally, according to the scientific community. In Brazil, one of the main concerns is the increased incidence of drought, bringing unprecedented scenarios, which requires understanding, adaptation, and mitigation. Remote sensing data, once scientifically interpreted, is capable of providing information for the policymakers to better deal with the apparent lack of preparedness to deal with drought impacts. Drought has many facets depending on where, how, when, and for how long it happens. A series of studies were conducted to assess the impacts of drought on different regions in Brazil in the 2000s, thus providing a better understanding of the phenomenon and, in some cases, proposing solutions to deal with them. One study covers agriculture in southern Brazil, designing a methodology to anticipate drought impacts on crop yield. The second research aimed at assessing the effects of an extended drought period in the drylands of the northeastern region of Brazil, which possibly caused land degradation. The last study is based on the southern Amazon, which includes the Indigenous Park of Xingu -- in this research, we assessed the complex degradation cycle encompassing land use changes, fire occurrences, forest resilience loss, crop productivity and, alterations in the carbon balance. The results bring new insights on the impacts assessment of the 2000s droughts and, therefore, set the stage for the development of a framework adapted to the new scenario, at where climate extremes will be a common threat to human wellbeing.
Data to Decisions: Utilizing Climate Data to Inform Municipal Planning in the Lower Missouri River Basin - Natalie Umphlett
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 06/14/2019

Communities all across the U.S. face a number of challenges due to a variable and changing climate, and recent events, both climatologically and politically, have shifted climate mitigation and adaptation efforts to the local level. Although many states and cities have begun implementing plans addressing the impacts of climate change, most are focused on coastal or high population areas.

In an attempt to better understand the current use of climate data and information at the municipal level in the Central U.S., a survey and focus group sessions were conducted with communities in the four states of the lower Missouri River Basin (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska). Results indicate that the use of climate data and information is generally low for planning efforts; however, communities could be encouraged to increase this use through the development of municipal-specific resources. A direct outcome of these results was the creation of 1) eleven customized city-specific climate reports for communities in the lower Missouri River Basin and 2) a suite of web-based tools that allows communities to explore their historic climate trends and future projections, as well as example plans that address climate-related topics from cities across the U.S. Although new, some of the resources developed through this project have already been used to support planning efforts and to better communicate the issues surrounding climate change.

Developing a Framework to Link Multi-sector Drought Impacts to Drought Severity at the State Level - Mary Noel
  • Thesis Defense
  • 06/10/2019
The United States Drought Monitor (USDM), a weekly-updated map depicting severity and spatial extent of drought, is a key indicator for federal and state policy decisions including the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars for agricultural financial relief in the United States annually. However, the current table describing potential drought impacts for the map's severity levels fails to adequately represent a state's unique environmental, economic, and social values affected by drought. One approach to improve this broad, national-scale assessment is to transition from the former platform to a more detailed characterization of drought impacts at the state level. To accomplish this, state and regionally specific drought impact classification tables were developed by linking multi-sector, qualitative impacts chronicled in the Drought Impact Reporter (DIR) to historic USDM severity levels across the United States and Puerto Rico. After creating state-level tables, a nationwide survey was administered to local experts and decision makers (n=89), including the USDM authors, in an effort to capture greater resolution of drought impacts at a local level. As a result, 76% of responses indicated the state table as acceptable or good when classifying drought impacts in their respective state. This updated classification scheme builds a narrative supported by a reproducible methodology that can be simulated in future research for a multiplicity of drought events to better understand the complex relationship between drought severity and corresponding impacts. This thesis includes one article (Chapter Two) currently in preparation for publication in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. It highlights the methodology, products, and next steps surrounding the drought impact classification table scheme, building upon the importance of enhancing qualitative impact reporting and drought characterization to improve drought preparedness, planning, and mitigation.
Assessing the Ecological Condition of Nebraska's Wetland Resources and Amphibian Communities - Nick Smeenk
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 04/26/2019
Wetlands provide valuable ecosystem services including flood control, nutrient retention, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat. Despite their importance, wetlands were historically displaced across the landscape in favor of alternative land uses. While general trends in wetland area have been tracked, the ecological condition of wetlands remains largely unknown. From 2011 - 2013, I conducted ecological assessments at 109 wetland sites in 11 wetland complexes across Nebraska. Using a novel standardized Floristic Quality Assessment Index score and additional vegetative metrics I determined the ecological condition of wetland sites. I subsequently tested the efficacy of multiple landscape methods and metrics as additional measures of ecological condition. Additionally, I assessed the detection and occupancy of amphibian communities in the Rainwater Basins using both landscape and local factors. Responses of plant and amphibian communities to landscape and local factors were varied and complex. Results of this research provide baseline data for Nebraska's wetlands and wetland reliant amphibian communities. Further, they illustrate the need to consider multiple spatial scales and the importance of spatial context for ecosystem conservation planning and management. While plant communities thrive with minimal 100 m vegetative buffers, other taxa such as anurans and birds may respond to factors at much larger spatial scales and require broader planning and consideration of landscape context, particularly in highly modified agricultural landscapes.
Evaluation of METRIC model for mapping the energy balance components and actual evapotranspiration of a super-intensive drip-irrigated olive orchard - Sam Ortega-Salazar
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/17/2019
A field experiment was carried out to evaluate the METRIC (Mapping EvapoTranspiration at high Resolution Internalized with Calibration) model for mapping net radiation (Rn), soil heat flux (G), sensible heat flux (H), latent heat flux (LE), actual evapotranspiration (ETa) and crop coefficient (Kc) of a superintensive drip-irrigated olive (Olea europeae L. cv Arbequina) orchard located in Pencahue Valley, Region del Maule, Chile (35 23' LS; 71 44' LW; 96 m above sea level). The study was conducted in an experimental plot of 21.1 hectares using 9 satellite images (Landsat 7 ETM+) acquired on clear sky days during 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 growing seasons. Specific functions to estimate Gi, leaf area index (LAI) and aerodynamic roughness length for momentum transfer (Zom) for olive orchards were incorporated in the standard METRIC model. The performance of the METRIC model was evaluated at the time of satellite overpasses using measurements of LE and H obtained from an eddy correlation system. Performance of the METRIC model was quite good and indicates that Landsat thermal satellite technology is capable of being employed operationally to estimate and manage water consumption of intensive olive production in water-scarce areas of Chile and elsewhere
The Role of Resource Availability and Habitat Quality in Structuring Prairie Bee Communities - Bethany Teeters
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 03/29/2019
Wild bees are a rich natural resource. In grasslands, they play a critical role in maintaining ecological functioning through the pollination services they provide. Grasslands, however, are among the most endangered of terrestrial ecosystems and diversity of both partners in plant-pollinator networks declines as prairie landscapes are converted to cropland. In the fragments that remain, the availability and quality of nesting and forage resources for wild bees becomes increasingly important for grassland resilience. This dissertation explores the functional composition of wild bee communities in fragmented prairies and how these communities are structured by floral resource availability, habitat quality, and the composition of the broader landscape. Overall, results indicate that the although well connected grasslands may currently serve as reservoirs of wild bees, including vulnerable species known to be declining throughout most of their former range, the pollination services that diverse suites of species provide may be restricted to this landscape. Therefore, thresholds of land cover in cropland and available forage were determined. These provide a valuable tool which can be used to inform land management and restoration decisions on a landscape scale, and to identify areas where conservation measures would be most effective for maintaining ecological function. After all, the persistence of grasslands and their biodiversity is largely dependent on maintaining and restoring ecological connections between species.
Population Dynamics of the Freshwater Mussel Lampsilis Cardium Reintroduced in Nebraska - Lindsay Ohlman
  • Thesis Defense
  • 03/25/2019

The global decline of native freshwater mussels has accelerated conservation projects that preserve and restore populations, but the complex life histories among species challenges biologists in determining the most effective management strategies. This study details the conservation of plain pocketbook, a Tier I threatened mussel species in Nebraska that was artificially propagated and reintroduced into 13 sites from autumn 2016 to summer 2017. The objectives of this study were: 1) determine how handling influences mussels, and 2) evaluate mussel population dynamics following introductions.

We conducted a 12-week laboratory experiment to assess the effects of handling on plain pocketbook growth and survival. We found this species is tolerant of short-term repeated handling and used results to develop a mark-recapture sampling design to assess population dynamics of introduced mussels. We then sampled mussels and habitats seasonally 2017 - 2018 to relate mussel growth and survival to habitat, timing of introduction, and shell size. We found mussels were at heightened risk for mortality during introduction and spring and correlated these time periods to environmental stressors. We used this information to develop a rigorous process for identifying suitable habitats as well as choosing optimal introduction times.

Handling is an anthropogenic stressor for mussels that can be moderated through proper research and techniques. Short-term monitoring studies can provide valuable insight on introduced mussel populations. Implementing best management practices for future introduction projects will enhance the conservation of this imperiled taxon.

Managing for ecosystem resilience in a non-stationary world - Caleb Roberts
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 03/13/2019
Globally, environmental change is on the rise, and ecological resilience of many ecosystems is eroding. This is leading to increases in regime shifts, where fundamental structures and functions of ecosystems change. Loss of resilience and regime shifts can strongly affect human well-being via alteration or loss of ecosystem services such as food production and biodiversity. The ability to quantify ecosystem resilience and detect early warnings of regime shifts would allow land managers, land owners, and policymakers to make informed decisions, appropriate conservation efforts, and take adaptive measures in the midst of ecological change and uncertainty. In this dissertation, I investigate methods for quantifying ecosystem resilience, novel tools for detecting early warnings of regime shifts, and review current natural resource management policies to determine their ability to foster and maintain ecosystem resilience. Overall results include development of a method for detecting spatiotemporal early warnings of regime shifts decades ahead of time, interpretable metrics for quantifying and comparing ecological resilience over time, and frameworks for prioritizing conservation efforts and land management in this era of non-stationarity. With the current global level of anthropogenic disturbance, these findings demonstrate that assuming constant, linear behavior in ecological systems and not taking preemptive, preventative, and adaptive measures in the face of change will lead to conservation failures and loss of ecosystem services. Instead, this dissertation provides support for a land management paradigm that embraces ecological complexity, takes action at meaningful scales, and is proactive.
The Niobrara National Scenic River: Exploring Co-management through A Case Study of the Niobrara Council - Melissa Mosier
  • Thesis Defense
  • 03/07/2019

In recent decades, government staff and local citizens have increasingly employed cooperative schemes of natural resource management (co-management), in lieu of more conventional, top-down approaches of addressing user conflicts as they relate to water resources. The focus of this project was on the Niobrara Council, a partnership of local, state, and federal representatives charged with cooperatively managing the reach of the Niobrara River that was federally designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1991. The project's purpose was to explore the co-management framework of the Council, using the methodology outlined by Carlsson and Berkes (2005). This methodology involved investigating the functional tasks of the Council and analyzing the linkages between those tasks and the individuals who perform them in order to develop a descriptive picture of how the Council functions. Qualitative data for this project was gathered through interviews with the Council members, Council meeting minutes, and enabling documents and laws related to the Niobrara National Scenic River (NNSR) and the Council. This data was used to inform a qualitative thematic analysis of the Council and clarify how relationships between participants and management activities in a co-management framework are organized, and how they might be enhanced to promote institutional capacity-building and long-term problem solving.

The findings from this project provided a clearer picture of how the various partners involved in the co-management framework of the Council manage the NNSR. A better understanding of the roles of various partners and the specific management tasks that they were responsible for was uncovered; illustrating where various actors play key roles, how responsibility for some tasks is shared, where collaboration is most prevalent and where it is intermittent, and at which junctures entities outside of the Council play a significant part. Additionally, data was analyzed in order to define what aspects of the co-management framework could be enhanced for capacity building, the most prevalent needs being increased access to resources, enhancing institutional arrangements, supporting appropriate government policies and planning, and enhancing stakeholder participation. These and other themes that emerged from the findings of this analysis provide a starting point for the Council to use when reflecting upon potential enhancements to their management framework and planning for future endeavors.

Assessment of Motivations, Constraints, and Future Waterfowl Hunting Opportunities of Hunters and Anglers Across the Central United States - Matthew Hinrichs
  • Thesis Defense
  • 02/27/2019

Since the mid-1980s, there has been a decrease in individuals participating in waterfowl hunting in the United States. The decline in participation has over-arching consequences for state and federal wildlife agencies in their ability to fund and ability manage habitat and waterfowl populations. There is a fundamental need to understand why individuals participate in waterfowl hunting and what barriers there are to participating in waterfowl hunting.

An online survey was conducted in the summer and fall of 2018 asking waterfowl hunters, anglers, big game hunters, combination users (i.e., hunters that have multiple hunting and fishing permits), and small game hunters about their motivations, barriers toward waterfowl hunting, stated preferences, mentorship, and demographics. Results suggested that all respondents, regardless of the activity they preferred, were strongly motivated by being outside and connecting with nature. In addition, big game hunters were strongly motivated by consumptive motivations, such as eating meat and knowing where their food came from. The most limiting barrier toward waterfowl hunting was land access (i.e., lack of public land and private land access), crowding at hunting locations, and encounters with other hunters. All individuals were likely to increase participation in waterfowl given the scenarios provided but highest ranked scenarios were to hunt an area with a quality hunt or someone to take them hunting. Further, respondents who had never participated in waterfowl hunting were more likely to hunt waterfowl with a mentor who is someone they know (i.e., family, friend, co-worker).

The study results provides information on factors associated with hunting participation and future. By understanding multiple attributes of hunters and anglers within the central United States, we gain further insight into participation trends and recreationists needs and expectations, with important implications to the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and anglers.

Implications of Channel Catfish Movement in An Internationally Managed System - Henry Hansen
  • Thesis Defense
  • 01/29/2019

The largescale movements and spatial behavior of channel catfish in the Red River of the North, have direct interactions with geopolitics, anthropogenic structures, and ecosystems. Investigating the spatial dynamics and exploitation of this mobile and internationally managed fish species provides opportunities for resource managers to design evidence-based policy for the diverse interest groups that utilize the fishery. My thesis comprised two parts: 1) characterize system-wide movement and survival patterns using mark-recapture methods and acoustic telemetry and 2) project the interaction of hypothetical exploitation scenarios and alternative movement methodologies to assess the fishery from an ecosystem service flow perspective. Channel catfish were tagged with T-bar tags and acoustic transmitters to track movement patterns and quantify harvest. Approximately 40% of individuals tagged with acoustic transmitters moved into Lake Winnipeg at least once during the study. Conversely, about 30% of T-bar tag recaptures in the U.S.A. had been initially marked in Canada. A large proportion (0.89- 0.97) of the individuals remained within the initial study reach where they were tagged. Fishing mortality was estimated to be less than 0.001, and natural mortality was estimated to be 0.16 across the entire system. Projection models demonstrated that trophy stages of channel catfish were highly sensitive to exploitation and were typically depleted at or below a 0.30 exploitation rate. Depletion of populations and changes in stock structure affected subregions within the Red River system differently which resulted in competing strategies among countries and fishers from the perspective of economic valuation of harvests. We found that recruitment from areas with greatest population size appeared to buffer aspects of harvest within regions and to some extent immediately adjacent regions. Movement, regardless of methodology, was critical in supporting exploitation for regions with low recruitment. The sustainability of exploiting highly mobile fish species from an ecosystem service flow perspective hinges on the ability of fisheries management organizations to incorporate spatial variability and understand the economic consequences of exploitation for competing interests.

Urban Forests in a Changing Environment: Midwestern Motivations for Tree Planting and Perspectives of Climate Change Impacts on Urban Forest Systems - Toby Burnham
  • Thesis Defense
  • 01/22/2019

Urban trees perform several ecosystem services important to humans. Climate variability and poor management threatens urban forests with ecological and socio-economic consequences. Therefore, it is critical urban trees are sustainably managed. For an urban tree management plan to succeed, social inputs at the residential scale must be taken into consideration.

The aim of this research is to help inform urban forest managers of social variables that may play an integral role in successful implementation of urban forest management plans. Social factors behind home-owner decision-making to plant or remove trees in the Lincoln and Omaha metro areas show that 75% of respondents consider aesthetics as extremely important in motivating tree planting, 74% cited space availability as very or extremely important for choosing the tree species planted, and 83% responded that tree health was the most important factor for removing trees. Most common types of trees planted were maples, and the most common types of trees removed were pines. Additionally, respondents primarily received information about trees from the internet (38.1%), and acquiring trees from nurseries (55.7%). Additionally, 59% of respondents agreed that changes in climate were already occurring, 46% agreed that climate change is mainly caused by humans, and 47% thought climate change will have negative consequences. Respondents generally perceive themselves as moderately knowledgeable about climate change. The majority of respondents (72.3%) are concerned about climate changes impacts on trees and most (63%) believe planting trees to reduce climate change is important. Overall, 59.8% are extremely likely to support more tree-planting in parks, streets, and other public places. Results from these studies are important for the development of sustainable management plans, and educational outreach programs related to urban tree management.