Graduate Degree in Natural Resource Sciences

Student Sampling at Cedar Point

The School of Natural Resources combines interdisciplinary approaches and disciplinary excellence to foster an integrated, systems approach to address complex natural resource, environmental, and human issues. We provide quality academic experiences for students to develop innovative approaches toward fundamental research in natural resource systems. Further, we promote a comprehensive conservation ethic for the effective and appropriate management of natural resources.

Degree Summary

Fact Sheet

Download summary

Optional Specializations

Many students focus their studies in one of our numerous specializations. These specializations are optional, well-defined areas of study that have been approved by the Graduate Council and appear on transcripts alongside degrees and majors. Each specialization has an unique set of requirements that must be met for a program to be considered completed.

Advising Faculty

Choosing an advisor whose interests match your research goals is critical for the success of your work. SNR emphasizes the cooperative exchange between students and advisors in research programs while still giving advisors the overall responsibility for the direction and course of the student's research.

Locate faculty who can advise:


Master of Science in Natural Resource Sciences

Credit Hours:

  • 30 total graduate credit hours
  • 15 in major credit hours (including thesis)
  • 20-24 total course work
  • 6-10 hours of thesis work (a maximum of 10 hours can be listed on the Memorandum of Courses)
  • 8 hours of Grad-only courses (without 400 or lower counterpart)
  • Optional minor
  • Once admitted to Candidacy by filing a Memorandum of Courses, you may not change options

Oral Presentations:

Graduate students are required to present two seminars:

  • A research prospectus seminar (presented either late in your first semester or early in your second semester of residency)
  • A final results seminar (before your final oral exam)


The School holds regular departmental and special seminars to which all graduate students are expected to attend. These seminars are presented by students and faculty in the School, by faculty in other departments, and by visiting scholars from other universities or agencies.

Scholastic Grade Requirements:

Scholastic Grade Requirements are set by UNL Graduate Studies and are described here.


Comprehensive Examination

  • Optional
  • Covers the student's approved program of study
  • Taken approximately 10 months before graduation, typically during the semester prior to graduation
  • Administered by the advisor, as directed by the student's committee

Final oral examination (Final Defense) of the Thesis

  • Conducted in the semester of graduation
  • Consists of two parts, generally held on the same day:
    • a seminar on the thesis topic (described above)
    • a formal oral examination
  • Thesis examinations are open to all Graduate Faculty; active participation in the examination process (other than at the seminar) is at the discretion of the advisor and the student's advisory committee.
Doctorate of Philosophy in Natural Resource Sciences

PhD candidates in Natural Resource Sciences must:

  • Complete 90 semester hours of graduate credit (including a dissertation); previous credit earned during the completion of a master’s degree may be counted towards this total if approved by your graduate advisor. Scholastic Grade Requirements are set by UNL Graduate Studies and are described here.
  • At least half of the graduate work (45 hours), including the dissertation, will be completed in the student's major.
  • Write a dissertation
  • Pass written and oral comprehensive exams
  • Demonstrate proficiency in one research tool
  • Present two formal seminar presentations – one generally covering the topic of your research prospectus, the other discussing your final research results.

Completing a program for the PhD degree normally requires a minimum of three full years of graduate study. The time limit for finishing the PhD degree is eight years from the time of filing your program of studies in the graduate studies office.

For more information about UNL’s PhD requirements, please see the University’s bulletin.

Minor Option in Natural Resource Sciences

A minor in Natural Resource Sciences consists of at least 9 graduate credit hours for the Master of Science program and 15 hours for the Doctorate of Philosophy program.


Graduates can find work at a wide range of positions in both the public and private sectors that are engaged in natural resource management. Alumni of the program have secured positions in a wide array of government agencies as well as non-government organizations and private businesses that range in scope and location from local to international scales.

Come join us. Follow your passion, and change the world!

How to Apply

Follow the steps at our "How to Apply" webpage.

Selected Dissertations and Theses

Remotely Sensed Early Warning of Algal Blooms in an Eastern Nebraska Reservoir: A Comparison of Temporal and Spatial Indicators - Mercy Kipenda
  • Thesis Defense
  • 07/24/2024
      Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (CyanoHABs) detrimentally affect human, animal, and ecosystem health. Remotely sensed early warning systems for algal blooms in inland lakes could contribute to more proactive water quality monitoring and help mitigate negative impacts. Advances in freely available remote sensing imagery, with finer spatial, temporal, and spectral resolutions, present new opportunities for the development and comparative analysis of methods to detect sudden deterioration in lake water quality. In this thesis, I compared and tested for temporal and spatial early warning signals of CyanoHABs in field-based and remotely sensed datasets from 2019 to 2023 in Pawnee Lake in southeast Nebraska, U.S.A. Field data consisted of biweekly microcystin (MC) levels from the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy’s Beach Watch Dataset and remotely sensed data consisted of two-week Normalized Difference Chlorophyll Index (NDCI) composites from the Sentinel 2B surface reflectance satellite. In Chapter 1, I tested for rising variance in biweekly MC and NDCI time series from May-September of each year at three rolling window sizes. I also computed the correlation between MC and mean lake wide NDCI and examined within year trends in each variable. Both MC and NDCI tended to increase from May-September of each year and the relationship between MC and NDCI approached statistical significance (p=0.06) but rising variance did not provide early warning of documented CyanoHAB events for either variable. In the second chapter, with a landscape ecology-based approach, I computed the number of high-NDCI patches (i.e., contiguous pixels with elevated NDCI values) within Pawnee Lake, computed the correlation between MC and the high-NDCI patch count, and tested for rising variance in high-NDCI patch count at three rolling window sizes. Although both MC and high-NDCI patch count tended to increase from May – September of each year, I found no relationship between MC and high-NDCI patch count and no evidence of early warning of documented CyanoHABs. Reasons for the lack of advanced warning could include small seasonal sample sizes and insufficient temporal resolution in both the field- and remotely sensed observations, examination of only a subset of temporal and spatial early warning indicators and limited geographic scope. This study provides a baseline for guiding future analyses with higher-resolution observations and alternative metrics and locations.
Applying Circuit Theory to Describe Changes in Structural Landscape Connectivity in Response to Wildfire - Christian Nielsen
  • Thesis Defense
  • 06/28/2024
Understanding and conserving ecological connectivity is critical to the preservation of vulnerable landscapes. Circuit theory, in which landscapes are imagined as circuit boards with varying resistances to the flow of current, is being increasingly used to model spatially explicit connectivity of landscapes and to inform land management and conservation decision-making. Utilizing continuous, quantitative estimates of percent cover by five land cover functional groups to create a conductance surface, this study expanded upon an established application of circuit theory that used the open-source software Circuitscape to model species-agnostic, omnidirectional connectivity. This model was automated using Python to create time-series connectivity maps from which comparisons could be made across time to assess pre- and postfire land cover patterns across the landscape. By applying this methodology to a U.S. Great Plains landscape affected by a large wildfire in 2012, this study found that for most functional land cover types, spatial configurations of areas of high and low connectivity changed in response to the wildfire disturbance, but quickly returned to pre-fire conditions. Exceptions were the tree and shrub functional groups, which saw persistent patterns of decreased connectivity in areas that were burned. This approach to modeling landscape connectivity over time could further enhance circuit theory-based assessments of landscapes affected by wildfire and tools for land managers promoting functional connectivity and resiliency in those landscapes.
Further developing Drought Early Warning Information Systems using mixed-methods and multiple streams of data - Caily Schwartz
  • Dissertation Defense
  • 05/08/2024
Drought is a complex phenomenon with varying degrees of impacts and monitoring methods. No drought is alike, creating a challenge for both water managers and communities. No area is immune to a drought. Due to the cyclical nature of drought events, clear information to those impacted is necessary to reduce risk and move towards proactive responses, as opposed to reactive responses. To better provide communication and mitigation tools, Drought Early Warning Information Systems (DEWIS) have been developed in various regions and contexts. To improve early warning, an understanding of the end user’s perceptions of risk, and the applicability of data and methods is valuable. This dissertation discusses findings from three related studies exploring the use of multiple methods and streams of data for drought risk in the United States. Chapter 1 provides a brief overview and outline of this dissertation. Chapter 2 presents findings from a study looking at the perceptions and usage of the term ‘flash drought’ among water managers in the United States. Chapter 3 is focused on modelling methods of using crop insurance occurrence data as a proxy of drought impacts for specialty crops. Chapter 4 is a systematic literature review of the use of mixed methods in drought science. Chapter 5 is the final study that investigates the benefits and validation of mixed methods in understanding drought risk to dry beans in North Dakota and Minnesota. Finally, in Chapter 6, I provide a brief conclusion of the findings and areas for future research. This dissertation demonstrates the use of various data types in understanding drought risk for improving drought early warning systems.
Demographic consequences of off-river nesting for piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) and interior least terns (Sternula antillarum athalassos) in the Lower Platte River system, Nebraska - Elsa Forsberg
  • Thesis Defense
  • 04/19/2024

Piping plovers (Charadrius melodus; hereafter plovers) and interior least terns (Sternula antillarum athalassos; hereafter terns) are two avian species that nest along the Lower Platte River system (LPRS) in Nebraska. Natural nesting habitat for both species consists of sparsely vegetated expanses of sand near water. In the LPRS, river sandbars provide natural nesting habitat for plovers and terns. Sandbar habitat has been reduced from historical availability due to anthropogenic modifications and annually variable depending on hydrological fluctuations. Plovers and terns in the LPRS also nest at off-river sites, such as sand and gravel mines and their derivatives, transition sites and lakeshore housing developments. Off-river sites provide most of nesting habitat in the LPRS when sandbar habitat is scarce and are presumed to be important for the persistence of plovers and terns in the LPRS. However, the quantity of plover and tern nesting habitat provided by off-river sites is not self-sustaining and predicted to decline due to changing sand and gravel mining industry practices. Understanding the vital rates of plovers and terns in the LPRS will inform the role that off-river sites hold in the future conservation and long-term persistence of both species. To contribute to this understanding, I assessed consequences of off-river nesting between sandbars and off-river sites and among off-river site types using a long-term monitoring database collected by the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership from 2008-2023. I also investigated additional factors that could affect vital rates such as the timing of nest initiation and hatching, extreme temperatures, conspecific and heterospecific nesting proximity, and nest exclosure usage (plovers only). For plovers, I evaluated annual and intra-seasonal adult survival, annual hatch-year survival, pre-fledging chick survival, and pre-fledging chick growth rates at off-river sites, and nest survival at off-river sites and sandbars. For terns, I evaluated pre-fledging chick growth rates and nest survival at off-river sites and sandbars. I did not find evidence for a difference between off-river sites and sandbars in nest survival for either species or for tern chick growth. Among off-river sites, plover chick growth was greatest at housing sites and tern chick growth was greatest at mine sites. There was no evidence that hatch date affected growth of plover chicks, but later hatched tern chicks had greater growth. Nest survival for plovers did not differ among off-river sites but was greatest at housing sites for terns. For both species, nest survival increased with increasing proximity to tern nests, greater proportion of incubation days with ambient temperatures above mean high temperatures, increasing nest age, and decreasing nest initiation date. Exclosed plover nests had higher survival. There was no evidence to show a difference in survival for adult plovers with exclosed nests. Plover adult, hatch-year, and chick survival was comparable to estimates of other populations. These results demonstrate the dynamics of plovers and terns in the LPRS and the importance of off-river habitat for the persistence of plovers and terns in the LPRS. Specifically, the lack of evidence for a demographic consequence of off-river nesting to nest survival or tern chick growth suggests that off-river habitat may support plovers and terns similarly to river sandbars. Furthermore, prioritization of early season nests may be most efficient for conservation and management resources, however tern chicks may benefit from investment later in the breeding season. As nesting near terns may improve plover nest success, measures to protect terns may also benefit plovers. Additionally, continued use of nest exclosures may improve nest success for plovers with limited effects to adult survival. Continued monitoring and study of plovers and terns at off-river sites and sandbars, particularly in the face of changing climatic and industry conditions, will further support the persistence of these species in the LPRS.

Redox-driven transformation of inorganic nitrogen species in the vadose zone: insights from column experiments. - Yvon Ukwishaka
  • Thesis Defense
  • 12/05/2023
Long-term and excessive fertilizer application has continuously increased nitrate in the vadose zone-groundwater integrated system. Nitrate, a highly miscible and mobile inorganic nitrogen species, leaches through the vadose zone to groundwater, posing human health implications when continuously consumed. Our study aims to evaluate the redox-based transformation of inorganic nitrogen species in a vadose zone under a row-cropped, sprinkler-irrigated field in central Nebraska. Undisturbed sections of deep vadose zone cores were packed in the columns representing the entire vadose zone, and a groundwater table was simulated. The biweekly collected porewater and sediment representative samples were analyzed for nitrate-N and ammonia-N transformations. We found that the average ammonia-N concentrations under rainfed were significantly higher than in sprinkler-irrigated system and pre-experimental soil (p.value <0.05). Pre-experimental soil nitrate concentrations were significantly higher than rainfed and sprinkler - irrigated systems (p.value < 0.05). In biweekly extracted porewater, simulation beneath the sprinkler-irrigation has significantly higher NO3-N levels in the root zone than the rainfed system porewater (p.value < 0.05). Still, no significant difference was observed at the capillary fringe. On the other hand, porewater NH4-N concentrations in the rainfed root zone were significantly higher than in the sprinkler-irrigated root zone, with comparable concentrations in the capillary fringe. Interestingly, in sprinkler-irrigated, the groundwater-irrigated system had higher NH4-N levels than the rainfed system, whereas the NO3-N concentrations were comparable in both irrigation systems. Our study suggests that differences in water volume input can impact nitrate transformation in the vadose zone.
Connecting the Nebraska Water Quality Index to the Aquatic Microbial Community of the North Platte River Basin, Nebraska - Paula Guastello
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/29/2023
The Nebraska Water Quality Index, under development by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, summarizes in a single value eight environmental parameters that have been regularly monitored in Nebraska for nearly 20 years. The water quality parameters used in the Nebraska Water Quality Index have been shown in previous studies to be critical to bacterial growth. As such, this index has the potential to correlate with the microbial community in freshwater systems. Here, I relate the Nebraska Water Quality Index to lotic microbiome composition and structure using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequence data collected from the North Platte River Basin, Nebraska. Gini-Simpson alpha diversity was significantly negatively correlated with Nebraska Water Quality Index ratings, as were the relative abundances of several bacterial orders: Absconditabacteriales, Burkholderiales, Campylobacterales,Oscillospirales, Rhizobiales, and Vicinamibacteria Subgroup 17. Nebraska Water Quality Index ratings were positively correlated with Flavobacteriales and Saccharimonadales. Analysis of environmental parameters suggested that total nitrogen played a substantial role in shaping the microbial community and water quality. The Nebraska Water Quality Index is a convenient method of summarizing the physiochemical parameters of a stream environment to monitor spatiotemporal trends in water quality and gauge the success of ecosystem restoration efforts. Analysis of the aquatic microbial community in conjunction with the Nebraska Water Quality Index may help identify the cause of water quality problems. For instance, Oscillospirales is associated with fresh cattle manure. The presence of Oscillospirales in areas of low Nebraska Water Quality Index Ratings could help users identify sources of cattle manure pollution
Assessing the Morphological and Physicological Traits of Smooth Brome Pastures under Long Term Grazing and Nutrient Enrichment in Eastern Nebraska - Hassan Shehab
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/20/2023
Climate change together with the increase in demands for food, feed, fuel, and fiber are becoming a threat to sustainability and resilience of agriculture and pasture lands. Bromus inermis (smooth bromegrass) dominates pastures for cattle grazing in Eastern Nebraska, US, where it is planted in monocultures, and is considered high quality forage because of its palatability and high nutritional value, especially under intensive management practices. Sustainable management of these pastures is key to long-term resilience. This study aims to assess the performance of smooth bromegrass pastures to the combined effects of long-term management practices (since 2005) of fertilization with Supplemental Dry Distiller Grain Soluble (DDGS, Fertilizer-SF), mineral (Fertilizer-HF), or control (no fertilizer-CG), under both rotational grazing and no grazing treatments or true control (no-grazing and no-fertilizer). Soil characteristics, plant morphology (biomass, leaf area index, and specific leaf area), forage quality (acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber, and crude protein), plant physiology (chlorophyll content and fluorescence), and vegetation optical properties (multispectral leaf reflectance) were measured throughout the growing season in 2022. Results showed that 2022 experienced drought with precipitation being (42 %) lower than the long-term average for the site. Pasture productivity was affected by fertilization treatments, grazing and water availability. We did not observe differences between fertilization treatments (SF and HF), where both treatments showed similar morphological and physiological trends throughout the season and differed significantly from control. These results are consistent with previous work, supporting the use of DDGS as an alternative to mineral fertilizer, thus reducing nitrate leaching and runoff from the system. Rotational grazing resulted in lower biomass and leaf area index (LAI) compared to ungrazed pastures, and higher crude protein. Several Indices (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index-NDVI, Chlorophyll Index red edge-CIre, and Vogelmann Red Edge Index-VRE) were tested as a non-invasive approach for vegetation assessment. The three vegetation indices showed significant relationship with ground measurements, demonstrating the feasibility of proximal sensing to measure different biophysical traits under different management practices and environments. HF and to a lesser extent SF resulted in improved growth conditions early in the season relative to controls, which provided a slight advantage to these treatments in a drought year over non-fertilized treatments, under both grazed and ungrazed conditions. Results from this study build on previous research on the site, and serve in the development of sustainable climate smart and adaptive management practices and contribute to land management policy planning.
Fishers' Satisfaction in the Presence of Invasive Species. - Caroline LaPlante
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/17/2023
The presence and spread of invasive species have changed the way humans interact with their environment. Invasive bigheaded carp are well established throughout the Missouri River system below Gavin’s Point Dam. Nebraska and South Dakota co-manage a popular recreation paddlefish fishery, operating a snagging season (October) and an archery season (June). Satisfaction of recreational paddlefish fishers depends on many factors that may be influenced by the presence of invasive species. We used comment cards (1997-2021), mail surveys (2022), and onsite surveys (2022 and 2023) to assess the influences of bigheaded carp on paddlefish fishers’ satisfactions. Based on a content analysis of comment cards and importance grid analyses of mail and onsite surveys, we determined that bigheaded carp were not influencing paddlefish fishers’ satisfactions. Factors identified as influencing paddlefish fishers’ satisfactions were related to the catch of paddlefish. Contrary to our expectations, we documented no influence (positive or negative) of invasive species on satisfactions of recreational paddlefish fishers. Further work with other invasive species and other recreational users is needed to determine whether our findings are more broadly applicable.
Understanding Recreational Activities of People with Fishing Licenses - Kyle Hansen
  • Thesis Defense
  • 11/15/2023
Recreational fishing is one of the world's most popular pastimes, wherein participation is associated with sociodemographic factors. Even so, fishing license sales are declining in the USA in conjunction with a reduction in rural populations as people move to urban areas. Thus, urban areas are constantly growing in population size, population diversity, and geographic size suggesting a need to understand fishing participation in these growing areas. Natural resource managers often use participation to understand recreationists, yet avidity could provide a new way to understand recreationists. The goal of our study is to understand what sociodemographic factors influence the fishing avidity of urban anglers and what relationships exist between fishing avidity and other recreational-activity avidities of anglers who reside in urban environments. Specifically, we asked: 1) do Esri Demographics’ urbanization groups better predict fishing avidity of anglers within an urban setting than sociodemographic factors typically gathered in surveys, and 2) what relationships (positive and negative) exist among avidities of recreational activities for fishing-license holders within an urban environment? We created generalized linear models and used an information theoretic approach to evaluate influences of sociodemographic factors on fishing avidity, and we used Principal Component Analysis to evaluate relationships among avidities of recreational activities. We sent the 2020 Omaha Recreation Survey to a random subset population of 2019 fishing-license holders that resided within the four urbanization groups of Omaha, Nebraska, as designated by Esri Demographics. We determined that Esri Demographics’ urbanization groups did not predict fishing avidity better than a priori models of common sociodemographic factors. We report a weighted average model of sociodemographic factors (i.e., employment, sex, household size, household gross income, education, R3 retained, R3 reactivated, day license holder, multi-year license holder, additional fishing members in the household, and age) to predict fishing avidity for individuals residing in urban environments. No recreational-activity avidity has a strong negative relationship with fishing avidity. Recreational fishing avidity has strong positive relationships with avidities of ice fishing, hunting, and golf. Our study provides new understanding of how urban anglers recreate in urban environments throughout the USA, which could aid management agencies with development of avidity thresholds to categorize anglers, explore opportunities for co-development of recreational activities for anglers, and identify targets of fishing effort.
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.
Salt Valley Greenways: Nature’s Network - Carlee Moates
  • 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.

Questions ?

Brooke Mott

Brooke Mott

Recruitment and Retention Coordinator - SNR Graduate Programs

School of Natural Resources
911 South Hardin Hall
3310 Holdredge Street

Lincoln, NE 68583-0989 US