Graduate Students Wildlife Projects

Graduate Students – Past and Present Wildlife Projects



Title: Relationships between Vegetation, Soils, and Pocket Gophers in the Nebraska Sand Hills (1984)

Student: Kathie J. Kajar Hirsch
Adviser: James Stubbendieck

A study was conducted at three locations in the Nebraska Sand Hills to determine if selected soil factors attracted or limited the local distribution of plains pocket gophers (Geomys bursarius). The study was also designed to determine the extent of range recovery for the first three years following control of plains pocket gophers.

Journal Article

Birds Western Meadowlark


Title: Demographics and Habitat Selection for the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) in the Nebraska Sandhills (2009)

Student: Matthew Giovanni
Advisers: Larkin Powell and Walter Schacht

The Western Meadowlark is broadly distributed across the temperature grasslands of central and western North America, but its abundance appears to be declining. The Sandhills are a potential population source for grassland bird species, but information on the demographic responses of species to land management in the Sandhills is mostly nonexistent. Western Meadowlarks were studied in the central Sandhills from 2006–2008 to understand the relationships between breeding ecology, vegetation structure, and associated land management.


Journal Article

prairie chicken chick

Title: Nest and Brood Site Selection and Survival of Greater Prairie-Chickens in the Eastern Sandhills of Nebraska (2012)

Student: Lars Anderson
Range Faculty: Walter Schacht and Larkin Powell

The greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus) is a grassland bird species of conservation concern, although the region of the Nebraska Sandhills has the largest and most stable population in North America. The Sandhills region is semiarid and dominated by privately owned rangeland; vegetation in the region is typically less dense than the tall grass ecosystem. Most management recommendations for the greater prairie-chicken are based on work in tall grass prairies, so our goal was to estimate the responses of brood-site selection and survival to the unique vegetation characteristics of the Sandhills region.


Journal Article

wildlife rangelands birds

Title: Landscape and Grassland Heterogeneity across Public and Private Rangelands in the Nebraska Sandhills (2013)

Student: Maggi Sliwinski
Range Faculty: Larkin Powell and Walter Schacht

The purpose of this research to determine the effects of grazing management strategies on grassland birds across landscapes. The objectives of the study are to (1) determine how a diversity of grazing management systems across private and public lands affects landscape and grassland heterogeneity, (2) to understand ranchers’ goals for his/her ranch, whether these goals are correlated with wildlife abundance on his land, and satisfaction in production outcomes, (3) determine how and why ranchers make the decision to work with neighboring landowners, what considerations are important to the decision, and any correlations with personality characteristics.


Journal Article

prairie grouse

Title: Winter Movement and Habitat Use of Prairie Grouse in the Nebraska Sandhills (2015)

Student: Julia Johnson
Range Faculty: Larkin Powell and Walter Schacht

Both prairie grouse species coexist in the Sandhills of Nebraska, but little is known about their habitat use or movements in the winter. It is important to understand how these birds are using the landscape year-round to be able to properly manage land for their habitat. Our objective is to evaluate the effects of ecological sites within rangeland and irrigated crop fields on winter movements of sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie-chickens in the Sandhills.

fire ecology

Wildlife Ecology

Title: Not yet available (2016-Present)

Student: Tori Donovan
Adviser: Dirac Twidwell

This research focuses on understanding ecological impacts and drivers of wildfire in the United States, with a particular focus on the Great Plains forested ecotone. Part of this effort will focus on unravelling the complex interactions between wildfire severity and wildlife. I will be investigating changes in wildlife habitat, community composition and population demographics along fire severity gradients for groups ranging from insects to bighorn sheep in order to determine the importance of wildfire severity and heterogeneity in shaping ecological communities.


Title: Management Options for an Uncertain Future (2016-Present)

Student: Caleb Roberts
Adviser: Dirac Twidwell

Due to global environmental changes such as human land modification, loss of historic disturbance regimes, and climate change, global ecological uncertainty is on the rise. Ecological systems are increasingly shifting into novel, and many times undesirable, ecological states. In my research, I am investigating management techniques to cope with our uncertain future. I will utilize North America Breeding Bird Survey data along with data from Department of Defense managed properties, in particular Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and Fort Riley, Kansas to develop statistical tools and theory to assess long-term trends in resilience of landscapes, changes in ecological regimes in both space and time, and species vulnerable to decline and extinction.



Title: Establishment of Wildflower Islands to Enhance Roadside for Pollinator Health and Aesthetics

Student: Kayla Mollet
Adviser: Judy Wu-Smart and Walter Schacht

A recent study completed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in collaboration with NDOR indicates that wildflower segregation in strips or islands is an effective method of improving wildflower establishment and persistence in diverse roadside mixtures. Other studies have suggested that smaller dispersed patches, such as islands, provide spatially continuous floral resources that are attractive to pollinators and increase establishment of pollinator communities. Therefore, providing dense islands of wildflowers may be a better conservation strategy than large areas of conventionally-seeded wildflowers intermixed with grasses. The next step is to identify plant-pollinator interactions and to assess the impacts of wildflower islands on establishment of wild bee communities on roadsides.

pollinators prairie corridor

Title: Phase II Prairie Corridor on Haines Branch

Student: Katie Lamke
Advisers: Judy Wu-Smart, Dave Wedin and Walter Schacht

The Prairie Corridor presents an opportunity for the City of Lincoln to integrate the land resources of a relatively large urban/rural fringe area into a naturally functioning and diverse tallgrass prairie. This research examines how the composition, size, shape and management of a wide range of prairie areas from virgin prairie, to CRP grasslands, to reconstructed prairie on agricultural ground, contribute to diversity, resiliency, and species richness. This includes the study of vegetation structure and composition within the prairie, size and shape of the habitat area, topography, landscape context, and adjacent land use with a focus on pollinators and associated flowering plants (e.g., native wildflowers).