Fletcher Lab Research

 

Our research broadly revolves around themes critical for understanding the role of environmental change on biodiversity. The impetus for most questions emerges from key conservation issues and problems in landscape ecology; however, we endeavor to answer questions that not only provide guidance for conservation but also improve concepts in ecology and behavior. To do so, we combine both intensive and extensive field data with experiments and quantitative modeling to approach questions. We are also actively involved with disseminating science-based information to managers, planners, and policy-makers. Some ongoing projects include:

Connectivity and fragmentation in complex landscapes

Habitat loss and fragmentation are rapidly transforming the planet. Accumulating research has provided insight regarding the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on biodiversity. While these results provide an essential first step to a comprehensive understanding of habitat fragmentation, our ability to predict when and why fragmentation may be important is a critical, though unexplored, concept for conservation.

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The Fletcher lab has ongoing research aimed at placing landscape issues into mechanistic and predictive frameworks that better allow understanding the consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation. To interpret the utility of these frameworks, we explicitly test predictions from these frameworks with data on the behavior and population dynamics of organisms faced with increasing fragmentation and loss of connectivity. As a major aspect of this work, we also use quantative tools, such as complex network analysis, to identify key aspects of landscape structure and connectivity that may limit populations and animal movement through landscapes. This work has been funded by the National Science Foundation.

Population and community spatial dynamics relevant to the recovery of species at risk of extinction

The Fletcher lab has broad interests in applying principles of population and community ecology to pressing conservation problems. These problems range from habitat management and restoration strategies to dealing with invasive exotic species. Throughout this work, there is a strong focus on on using quantitative methods to better interpret management problems and provide solutions. We also focus on spatial issues relevant to demographic processes and habitat management that can influence management success. This work has recently focused on threatened and endangered species management, including Snail Kites, Florida Panthers, and Florida Grasshopper Sparrows.

We have a major, ongoing effort aimed at providing critical information for the recovery of the endangered Snail Kite and its relevance to the restoration of the Everglades. This work is in collaboration with the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and many other partners. The research and monitoring emphasizes spatial demography throughout its geographic range and how hydrologic management influences the demography and movement of this rare raptor. This work has been funded by the Army Corps of Engineers, Saint John's Water Management District, and US Department of Interior (USGS). Contact Rob for more information.

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Animal behavior and its role in spatial ecology

Much of the patterns observed in animal ecology can be explained by the decisions that individuals make. To reduce uncertainty in decision-making, animals acquire and use various types of information, including both personal (i.e., direct interactions with the environment) and social (i.e., the behavior of others) information. Information use is a process that has both spatial and temporal elements. By understanding how, why, and when individuals use information, scientists are gaining new insights into animal behavior and its influence on population and community dynamics across landscapes.

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The Fletcher lab is currently investigating numerous aspects of information use and its consequences in changing landscapes, focusing on both birds and insects and decisions including habitat selection, movement, and reproductive allocation. We ask questions regarding the role of behavior in explaining large-scale patterns and processes as well as the match (and mis-match) of behavior and the resulting fitness consequences, such as the emergence of evolutionary traps. This work has been funded by the National Science Foundation.

Land-use change and biodiversity conservation

Land use is changing across the planet, with much change driven by the need for more food and energy. We currently are spearheading several projects regarding the role of land-use change for energy production on biodiversity.

Bioenergy production has significantly grown in the last decade, and further growth is expected in the coming years. With the potential surge in land-use change to accommodate bioenergy production, there is emerging awareness that such changes could influence biodiversity. The Fletcher Lab, Berry Brosi's lab (Emory University), Lora Smith (Jones Center), Holly Ober (UF), Jason Evans (Stetson University), and Janaki Alavalapati's lab (Virginia Tech University) are assessing the potential impacts of an increase in bioenergy production on biodiversity conservation at national, regional, and state scales.

Importantly, not all biomass feedstocks will likely have the same impacts on biodiversity, nor will the ways in which biomass is harvested, such that trade-offs in biomass production may inevitably occur. We are currently assessing the possible impacts of different biomass harvesting and biofuel crops on biodiversity in the southeast. This work has been funded by the US Department of Agriculture, The National Wildlife Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Wildlife Habitat Research Policy Program, National Council for Science and the Environment (click here for more on WHPRP). Contact Rob for more information.

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Species distribution modeling: theory, estimation, and application 

Understanding species distributions in space and time is essential to ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. There is a growing need for robust habitat models that can adequately predict species distributions across broad spatial scales. Such models can be invaluable tools for conservation biologists by allowing biologists to evaluate potential management actions, interpret the potential effects of climate change, and maximize biodiversity with reserve selection algorithms. Yet the ability to use these models is often limited by a number of ecological and statistical issues.

The Fletcher Lab is developing robust, large-scale species distribution models as part of a grant from the USDA-NRI program (in collaboration with the Avian Science Center, University of Montana) and recent collaborations on climate change. Using advanced statistical methods we are developing, we are testing whether we can add ecological realism to models by thinking creatively about sparse data, which may improve performance and provide broader inference on habitat quality across the intermountain West. We are also developing GIS-based tools based on these spatially explicit models to better inform decision-making.