Research

 

The picture to the right is an aerial photograph of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory illustrating the heterogeneous landscape. Seven different habitats were sampled for two years to compare prey availability across the landscape. A log-linear analysis was then used to relate spatio-temporal changes in prey to the diets and activity patterns of the predators. The results showed that the numerically common predators, red fox, coyote, Red-tailed Hawk, and Great Horned Owl, feed heavily on rabbits and voles. Squirrels and field mice suffer comparatively low predation rates.

We then examined how predation affects the biology of small prairie mammals, such as mice and voles, by excluding the predators. There were four plots, each 1.5 acres in area, that had the coyotes and red foxes fenced out. Hawks and owls were excluded by suspending netting above the plots. Small mammals on the four exclusion plots and four control plots were trapped at monthly intervals to monitor long-term demographic patterns. The two most common small mammals occurring at the site were white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) and meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus). Following peak densities in late summer, Microtus numbers were as much as three times greater on exclusion plots relative to controls. This was due to preferential selection of Microtus by vertebrate predators, as reflected in their diets. Vertebrate predator exclusion had no detectable effect on Peromyscus numbers; this may have been attributed to an abundance of alternative prey, particularly eastern cottontails.

We also burnFencing used to exclude terrestrial vertebrate predators.ed and mowed a portion of the field site.  This was intended to test how predators affect prNetting used to exclude avain predators.ey populations, how different prairie management techniques affect prey populations, and how these different trophic levels ultimately interact in a tallgrass prairie restoration. Plant sampling involved the use of 60, 0.5-m quadrats distributed between mowed, burned, and control plots in the summer through fall months. Vegetation profiles were also taken to measure litter depth and vegetation structure. Plant data will be coupled with the small mammal censuses to look at how different prairie restoration techniques determine the species composition and abundance of plants and, in turn, vertebrate prey within the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.


 

Foraging Behavior

                                                                                  The predator exclosures In the two pictures on the right, note the mice, one passing through the chickenwire and another jumping into the grass.were also used to examine the effects of reduced predation risk on the foraging behavior of Peromyscus. Seeds were placed both in foraging towers (seen in the figure to the right), which resulted in elevated feeding sites, and on the ground. The results indicated that in the absence of predators, Peromyscus increased their level of foraging activity at the more exposed, elevated site. This may have been attributed to reduced rustling of leaf litter and greater visual acuity of the prey.  Also, there was a reduction in foraging during a full moon as compared to a new moon;Note the four foraging trays: (1) one on the side of the tree, (2) at the base of the tee, (3) 2 meters from the tree by a log, and (4) a control 2 meters from the tree. presumably the higher lunar light levels resulting in increased predation risk.

These experiments have been expanded to include foraging in shrubland and woodland.  In the shrubland, we are examining how Peromyscus respond to visual, auditory, and olfactory cues and two spatial scales.  In the oak woodland, we're using a similar suite of vertebrate cues, but measure variation in Peromyscus foraging in the open, long (run-ways), at the base of trees, and at elevated sites in tree trunks.


 

                   Foraging in the TropicsBig-eared climbing rat (Ototylomys phyllotis) trail, leading to nest in stump.

Big-eared climbing rat (Ototylomys phyllotis), after coating with floresent powder.

This work is being conducted at Las Cuevas Field Station in Chiquibul Preserve, Belize.  In numerous studies throughout North America, small mammals consistently used downed logs as foraging corridors.  Many North American predators, such as foxes and owls hunt via auditory cues, and rustling leaves are a main attractant.  This past summer, we compared how two disturbances logging and hurricane influence the structure of the rainforest and in turn small mammal foraging behavior.  Although the sample size is still limited, we were very surprised to find that the small mammals completely avoided all downed logs, conOne of a half dozan tropical jumping pit vipers (Atropoides nummifer) we "stumbled" across.trary to previous work in North America.  Multiple encounters with tropical jumping pitvipers may be the explanation.  Unlike mammalian or avian predators, pitvipers hunt via thermal and tactile cues.  They commonly place their lower mandible on a log to sense vibrations.  During future trips to Chiquibul, I hope to increase the sample size of tracked rodents and quantitatively analyze their movements in relation to downed woody material and vegetation structure.

 


Urbanization


LandSat data used in GIS analysis of regional land cover.Recent studies have focused on the the effects of urbanization on vertebrates.  This has included a limited amount of work with anurans and birds.  Our work with a variety of mammalian groups, including carnivores, small mammals, and bats, has taken a multifaceted approach.  Population structure, community composition, and ecotoxicology are topics encompassed by current urbanization investigations; future collaborative work will incorporate population genetics.

Gradient analysis has been used to address questions on how urban sprawl effects mammalian species distribution and abundance.  The gradient, shown in the figure at left, starts near the "Lake Shore" of downtown Chicago and ends 100 km away at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a 10,000 ha macrosite.  Landcover along the gradient includes dense residential areas (up to 3,200 people per square km), heavy industry, suburban subdivisions, extensive agriculture, and natural areas.



WetlandsTop: Cope's Gray Tree Frog (Hyla chrysoscelis); Bottom: Green Heron (Butorides striatus).Nested subset patterns of wetland birds.

From a systems perspective, I also have interests in wetland restorations. Projects have ranged from the distribution and abundance of frogs among a diversity of wetland types, to nested subset patterns of birds and a GIS model for predicting distribution of pre-settlement wetlands. 

Recently I initiated work at a large scale nutrient farming project.  One question will focus on experimental changes in hydrological regimes and the distribution and abundance of muskrats.  A second question will examine bioaccumulation of pesticides and herbicides resulting from the increased flow of agricultural run-off.  Funds are also pending for a wet prairie restoration.  This project will examine different moisture regimes along a moisture gradient and how these abiotic parameters interact with herbivory.


Chile

Chilean chapparalMy work in Chile was carried out at a field site in Fray Jorge National Park. The park is located along the coast, about 200 miles north of Santiago. Approximately 80% of Fray Jorge is semiarid thorn-scrub habitat and has a very pleasant climate. Summer months (December-February in the Southern Hemisphere) are warm, dry, and sunny. During the winter months, temperatures dip down into the low 40s with scattered, light, showers. The field site, similar to the one in northern Illinois, is maintained by Dr. Peter Meserve at Northern Illinois University. Work at this site has been ongoing since 1989. During this time the predators have shown a wide range of effects on the prey: from negligible in the olivaceous field mouse to dramatic, prolonged increases in density and survivorship of degu on plots that have had the predators excluded. Even more impressive have been the effects of El Nio, periodic increases in precipitation resulting from changes in ocean temperatures. Within three to four months of increased levels of precipitation, rodent densities soared by over an order of magnitude. At their peak, you had small mammals running across you at night if you tried to sleep on the ground!






Although field studies can often include relatively strenuous work, there are also times to relax. Even during mid-January in northern Illinois.



[Photo yet to come]