Summer 2012

Greetings from the Department Head Francie Cuthbert

This communication marks the third electronic newsletter from the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. We seek to connect with our alumni, colleagues and stakeholders in the summer of 2012 and are excited to update you on the activities and accomplishments of our department this past academic year. The biggest news of the year has been Professor Peter Sorensen’s successful effort to secure significant funding from several state sources for a new Aquatic Invasive Species Center at the University. The University and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will partner with other stakeholders to seek solutions to the management of several key problem species, especially carp and zebra mussels, in the State. Because the Center’s first official day was 2 July, we have only limited information to report in this newsletter. We expect much progress on the Center’s research by the time of our next newsletter in 2013. The current newsletter provides an overview of department activities including a reception for DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, accomplishments of the Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, update on a major new Extension program, a report on a new international course in Peru and a summary of this year’s Bike across Minnesota fundraiser for Conservation Biology graduate students. Finally, we introduce you to our new office staff member who joined us last fall. Tomisin Olayiwola (Tomi) joined our department in November as an Executive Office and Administrative Specialist. Tomi works half time for us and half time for the Entomology department, our next-door neighbors in Hodson Hall. Tomi majored in advertising at North Dakota State University. We're very happy to have her here.

Tom Landwehr Reception in October 2011

The Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology held a reception on October 19, 2011 in honor of Tom Landwehr's appointment to Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He is also a UMN alumnus and holds an adjunct position in our department. Deputy Commissioner, Dave Schad, is also an alumnus of the department.

L to R. Tom Landwehr, Francie Cuthbert, and Dave Schad

Landwehr earned his BS and MS in natural resources at the University of Minnesota, and his MBA in business administration from the Carlson School of Management. He began his career as a wildlife biologist at the DNR and spent 17 years there in a number of roles. Subsequently, he worked for 12 years with nonprofit conservation groups—Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy—before he was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to head the DNR.

T. Landwehr with Alan Ek, Forest Resources Department Head

Landwehr's experiences in both the public and private sectors will serve him well throughout his term as commissioner, Landwehr says. “The conservation community is a continuum; everybody, whether they know it or not, has an interest in natural resources, so in this state you can have 6 million different opinions. The job of the department is to balance the need for creating wealth and providing opportunities by sustaining resources for the future.”


FWCB Faculty, Minnesota Youth, Birds, and Butterflies (and Science!)

FWCB faculty members Karen Oberhauser and Rob Blair, along with the University of Minnesota Extension’s Environmental Science Education and Youth Development teams, are mid-way through a five-year project supported by the National Science Foundation. In this project, called Driven to Discover: Enabling Authentic Inquiry through Citizen Science, youth-adult research teams investigate questions about the natural world as they monitor birds and butterflies. The research teams work with FWCB scientists: Oberhauser, Blair, and Conservation Biology graduate students. First, the teams collect data for established citizen science projects, FWCB’s Monarch Larva Monitoring Project ( and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s e-Bird ( As their data collection activities draw them further and further into observations of the natural world, the scientists help them design and carry out independent inquiry investigations; they make observations, ask questions, formulate hypotheses, design investigations, and report their findings to their peers.

In 2010, thirteen adult leaders trained by the UM team worked with nine research teams and 76 youth (aged 6-15) from throughout Minnesota; numbers grew to 15 adult leaders and 13 citizen science research teams in 2011. The third adult leader training session was held in early May 2012, with 22 adult leaders from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Each fall, these teams gather for a Research Summit, to present their findings and receive feedback from scientists, their adult leaders, and their peers. Their research ranged from explorations of bird diversity at different times of the day (there are more birds in the morning!) to analyses of the effects of clean and dirty hands on monarch caterpillar survival (clean hands are better!).

Dave Garshelis - David Messel Award

David Garshelis, adjunct faculty member in FWCB and bear biologist for MN DNR, was the recent recipient of the Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership in recognition of his work in global bear conservation. The award was presented by Simon Stuart, chair of the Species Survival Commission, at the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 27, 2012. This award, established in 2004, acknowledges individuals who have made a significant contribution to species conservation through their leadership within an IUCN Specialist Group. Dave co-chairs the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, which oversees the conservation of all seven terrestrial bears in the world (all but the polar bear). The Harry Messel Award is given to up to four international species conservationists at four-year intervals.

2nd annual Bike across Minnesota Fundraiser June 1st through 4th: Mission accomplished!

One of the most valuable experiences of any graduate education is the opportunity to participate in professional conferences and workshops. These experiences help students maintain professional relationships with colleagues, learn about the latest research in their field, and establish important connections leading to long-term career opportunities. Conferences also encourage students to share ideas and collaborate with others in their field as a means to promote innovative research. For students in the Conservation Biology (CB) Graduate Program, these activities form the basis of a well-rounded academic year. Over 105 presentations were given by CB students last year at conferences around the world, including the annual conferences of the Society for Conservation Biology, the American Fisheries Society, and The Wildlife Society.

Being a graduate student is far from inexpensive. Tuition and enrollment fees, research and field expenses, and the costs of daily living are but a few of the financial obligations students are responsible for in a given semester. Without money to spare, students are less likely to pursue costly academic endeavors, such as attending professional conferences or workshops. Although these activities are not required to obtain a degree, professional and academic development will suffer without these opportunities. Once upon a time, CB students could alleviate some of their financial stress by requesting funds from a pool of money maintained by the program for the explicit purpose of getting them to conferences. Such amenities of a more economically stable time are no more, particularly in light of substantial budget cuts to higher education.

Last year students in the CB program made a bold move to ensure their graduate experience would not be compromised by harsh economic realities. In June of 2011, CB students organized an ambitious fundraiser to replenish the student travel funds. Students were able to accumulate over $5000 in donations by biking across Minnesota in three days (read some of last year’s highlights). Last year’s strong record of conference attendance by CB students is a testament to the success of this fundraising campaign.

 The success of last year’s bike relay provided students with ample motivation to tackle the challenge a second time around. Beginning in January, CB students started planning the 2nd annual Bike Relay across Minnesota to raise travel funds for the 2012-13 academic year. The culmination of five months of fundraising came to a head when students departed for the western border of Minnesota on May 31st to begin their bicycle journey across the state. The plan was to cycle from Fargo, ND to the shores of Lake Superior near Silver Bay in an epic ride across northern Minnesota. Three and a half days later, the group of intrepid riders cycled 413 miles and gathered over $6500 in donations, surpassing last year’s donations by $1500. With these generous donations, CB students have the comfort of knowing that their graduate experience will not be compromised by a lack of financial support.

Climate change in the City of the Gods: Machu Picchu and the Headwaters of the Amazon

Jim Perry
FWCB Professor

In May and June, Jim Perry led a class of 16 students on an adventure in the Peruvian Amazon and then Andes. The class was intended as “a big exploration supported by a little think”. The group explored Cusco, the high elevation (> 11,000 ft) capital of the Inca world, which is now a cultural World Heritage site. They explored the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo on the way to Machu Picchu, often called the city of the gods. Machu Picchu, both a cultural and a natural World Heritage site, was the spiritual home of the Incas and is one of the world’s architectural wonders. The class also spent two weeks at a biological field station in the Peruvian Amazon and Manu National Park, two natural World Heritage sites. The 3.3 million acre Manu National Park stretches from the high Andes to the Amazonian lowlands and contains the highest biodiversity of any site on earth.

The “little think” supporting the “great exploration” was an independent research project students conducted, either alone or in groups of 2-3. The design of the small research project was to ask people to walk the landscape and pose questions that interested them. Students then wrote a short statement describing how they would approach that question, collected and analyzed pilot data, then offered a revised project design. They then collected, analyzed and interpreted real data, and concluded with Story Hour, a series of presented papers in which each student or group presented their results to the rest of the class and to a range of invited guests.

The focus of the class was the linkage among World Heritage, biodiversity and climate change. During the class, we explored World Heritage as a designation and a concept; we asked, "What makes a place eligible for World Heritage designation?" We discussed and sampled biodiversity in many forms and asked, "What role does biodiversity play in World Heritage?" Climate change is the largest environmental challenge facing human society today, but its ramifications and management are very complex. We discussed climate change, how it occurs and is detected. We asked, "What might climate change do to biodiversity or to other aspects of (these) World Heritage site(s)?" Finally, we recognized that all of this took place in Peru, a country and landscape with a language, culture and history very different from our own. We tried to experience and learn about a wide range of cultural and culinary attributes. As their final responsibility for the class, each student will tell some story about that experience to some audience back home; this might be a newspaper article in their home town or a guest lecture in a college classroom. It will be an outreach effort that tries to make the experience more real to the student and shares a little bit of Peru with some audience back home.

I found the class to be an absolutely wonderful experience. The students came from all over the university and represented a very wide range of interests, backgrounds and skills. The interaction among the 17 of us, in very close quarters for three weeks was a very pleasant surprise. Everyone participated, although levels of engagement and personal energy varied widely. Student journals and their review of the class demonstrated that they enjoyed and gained from the experience. Some people are now planning additional, in some cases longer term international experiences, such as a semester abroad or an international volunteer experience. I believe that the design of the class (i.e., lots of exploration; a 2-week, in-depth experience in one location; a small, student-designed and conducted research project) allowed students to develop a sense of place, a personal affinity for the tiny town of Pilcopata, near the field station, and yet also gain broad exposure to history and culture both in the Andes and the Amazon.

Student Perspective - Climate change in the City of the Gods: Machu Picchu and the Headwaters of the Amazon

Cooper R. Johnson
Junior, FWCB

Just like the snapshots I took while studying in Peru, these details and feedback don’t come close to doing my experiences justice. The global seminar I took part in this May session was entitled: Climate change in the City of the Gods, Machu Picchu, and the Headwaters of the Amazon and was no doubt, the best experience I’ve had thus far at the University of Minnesota. We left for South America shortly after the end of spring semester, a group of sixteen amazingly diverse students (with diverse interests and majors), accompanied solely by the HT Morse Distinguished Professor, Dr. Jim Perry. When we arrived in Peru, we began the first of two legs in our journey: to the Amazon! This was the part of our trip that I signed up for. We were to travel 8-10 hours through the Andean Amazon on thin, cliffhanging dirt roads before arriving at Villa Carmen Field Research Station just outside the one-horse-town of Pilkopata, directly on the edge of Manu National Park, home to the highest biodiversity on the entire planet.

We stayed at Villa Carmen for just under two weeks, plenty of time to make new friends, see new species, better our Spanish skills, and experience a horde of authentic Peruvian cuisine. Apart from our group activities like night walks, mist-netting bats, camera trap setting, and trail walking, in which we all saw numerous species of plant, animal, and insect life, each of us had to pick a more individual way to spend our time at the station. Professor Perry told us we each needed to pick a type of biodiversity to sample, with the question of “So what?” in the back of our heads. We were each (solo or in groups of 2-3) supposed to sample, interpret, and predict what effect climate change might someday have on our chosen species. This proved to be the most challenging, yet also the most pragmatic and useful experience for many of the students (including me) on this trip; an unforgettable take-away. Once we had collected our small data sets, each group presented for about 10-15 minutes in what Dr. Perry called “story hour”. We all concluded that everyone’s presentations were extremely impressive and I, myself, was very proud of the class results as a whole.

Once our time had expired at Villa Carmen, we said our goodbyes and trekked back through the Andean road in our bus to Cusco. After a few days of rest and some touristy activities, we departed for the second part of our trip: the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. We took tours of many different Incan sites including Ollantaytambo, Saqsaywaman, and Machu Picchu (3 days in a row). All of these tours presented amazing information about Incan life, history, and the marvels of their architecture. I was constantly muttering “Wow” and “Oh my gosh” as we made our way through these mysterious ruins. Although these sites were not my main reason for going to Peru, they certainly still had a profound effect on me.

Overall, this global seminar blew my mind. Everywhere you went, there was something new and wondrous to see. The group dynamics were incredible, and the structure and planning were phenomenal, especially considering that this was a pilot run for this particular class. I couldn’t ask for any better professor to lead this trip. With his knowledge, guidance, and personal insight/advice, Dr. Perry doesn’t just educate his students on concrete fact and theory, he teaches them how to think critically. What skill is more valuable than that? All things considered, I would not change a single thing about my experience. From being attacked by several dozen ants, to falling into the Madre de Dios River, it all added up to a great four weeks and I would recommend it to anyone.

News from the Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit held its 20th annual Coordinating Committee meeting in October 2011. At that meeting, cooperators (U.S. Geological Survey, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, University of Minnesota, the Wildlife Management Institute, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) review Coop Unit productivity and operations, approve new projects, and provide information to each other about the status of their respective organizations and how that might influence the Coop Unit. As you might expect, the MN Coop Unit faces the consequences of tighter budgets at the federal, state, and university levels, but as always, will continue to find creative ways to address important research questions. Despite of shrinking budgets, the MN Coop Unit continues to have strong support from cooperators, and is collaborating with a host of partners in a wide range of research projects.

David Fulton (Assistant Leader-Wildlife) recently had 3 Ph.D. students (Sue Schroeder, Lou Cornicelli, and Ed Rudberg) complete their degrees, and has 1 M.S. student (Alex Heeren). Sue Schroeder continues in her position as a Human Dimensions Research Associate, now also as a postdoc. David is currently working on projects focused on better understanding Minnesota waterfowl hunters, Minnesota bass anglers, human attitudes and beliefs about climate change impacts in northeastern Minnesota, private landowners’ perceptions of deer and deer management in southeastern Minnesota, and yard management for conservation in urban areas.

Bruce Vondracek (Assistant Leader-Fisheries) is currently advising or co-advising 10 graduate students. Several of these students are working on different aspects of the same project, but even so, Bruce has quite a few irons in the fire!  Jennifer Cochrane-Bieterman, Will French, and Jane Mazack are working on factors associated with spring-fed streams in southeastern Minnesota, and how climate change might affect the emergence of winter-active aquatic macroinvertebrates and the growth and diet of brown trout with a focus on winter. Marcus Beck, Jen Keville, and Jessie Lepore are investigating effects of lakeshore development on lake systems in northern Minnesota, focusing on impacts of inshore habitat where docks and boat lifts are often built, and where aquatic and shoreline vegetation and large woody structure in the near-shore areas are often removed. Four of Bruce’s students (Christy Dolph, Joel Chirhart, April Lueck, and Matt Kocian) are nearing completion of their degrees. In February, Bethany Blick completed her M.S. in Water Resources Science by successfully defending her thesis titled “Knife River Stressor Identification, Kanabec County, Minnesota.”

David Andersen (Leader) currently advises 2 postdocs (Henry Streby and Jason Bruggeman). Henry is leading a regional study on golden-winged warbler population ecology across a climate change gradient, with study sites at Rice Lake and Tamarac national wildlife refuges in Minnesota and at Sandilands Provincial Forest in southeast Manitoba, Canada. He recently was awarded a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to continue work on golden-winged warbler population ecology. Jason Bruggeman is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compile and summarize information related to bald and golden eagle conservation in the Upper Midwest. Three M.S. students are working on population ecology and conservation of birds. Kyle Daly is working on American woodcock ecology at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge to assess the response of woodcock to landscape-scale management. Sean Peterson is evaluating factors related to golden-winged warbler nesting success and fledgling survival, and Dave Fronczak is investigating migration ecology of the Eastern Population sandhill cranes. Finally, we are working on population ecology of arctic peregrines on Alaska’s North Slope. Pat Kennedy (Oregon State University) is a co-Principal Investigator on this project and we are working closely with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to evaluate historical survey data and design additional projects to inform management of these birds.

Some MN Coop Unit highlights over the last year include (1) Bruce Vondracek received a STAR award for his contributions to graduate programs at the University of Minnesota. Bruce has long-served as the chair of the admissions committee for the Conservation Biology graduate program, and this federal award recognizes the significant contribution that Bruce has made to our University of Minnesota cooperator. (2) David Fulton was promoted through the federal Research Grade Evaluation process to GS-14. This promotion recognizes David’s scientific contribution and productivity, and is in many ways comparable to promotion to Full Professor in the academic world. (3) The MN Coop Unit hosted a visiting scientist during the 2011-2012 academic year. Ted Swem (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fairbanks, AK) spent the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012 at the University of Minnesota, working on summarizing and analyzing 30 years of arctic peregrine survey data as part of our North Slope peregrine project.

Finally, Hattie Saloka continues as the MN Coop Unit administrator, and as many who are familiar with our Unit know, Hattie is the person who keeps us afloat administratively.

We will soon begin preparing our 2011-2012 biennial report, which summarizes MN Coop Unit activities. For a summary of past projects, please see our 2009-2010 biennial report on our University of Minnesota website, or to review some of our other recent accomplishments, visit our Coop Unit Program website.


2012 Annual Kolshorn Lecture

The annual Kolshorn Lecture, held on March 26, 2012 and hosted by the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, featured guest speaker, Dr. Eric Post. Eric Post is a professor of Biology at Penn State University, and honorary professor in the Department of Arctic Environment, Aarhus University, Denmark.

Dr. Post’s presentation for the Kolshorn Lecture was titled, “The Vanishing Arctic”. The Arctic has warmed at a rate that is approximately double that of the global average temperature increase. Because of its low species diversity and structural simplicity, the Arctic should be expected to display ecological changes in response to this recent rapid warming that may signal the types of changes to come at lower latitudes with future warming.

For the talk, the speaker reviewed examples of ecological dynamics across the Arctic associated with the recent temperature trend, including population declines in some species and increases in others. He also discussed potential conservation risks that may arise if human access to remote parts of the Arctic is promoted by future warming.

The Kolshorn lecture series was established in 1982 to honor Otto W. Kolshorn, a teacher and farmer in Goodhue County. Invited speakers are outstanding professionals in fisheries, wildlife management, or conservation.

The mission of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology is to foster a high quality natural environment by contributing to the management, protection, and sustainable use of fisheries and wildlife resources through teaching, research, and outreach.

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2011-2012 Faculty and Staff Honors and Awards

This last spring, faculty member Todd Arnold was promoted from Associate Professor to Professor. Todd’s research focuses on the ecology and conservation of wetland- and prairie-dependent wildlife, particularly waterfowl. He is the recipient of a 2008 Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Associated Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

David Fulton, Assistant Leader - Fisheries (MN Coop Unit), was promoted through the federal Research Grade Evaluation process to GS-14. This promotion recognizes David's scientific contribution and productivity, and is in many ways comparable to promotion to Full Professor in the academic world.

Dave Garshelis, adjunct faculty member and bear biologist for MN DNR, was the recipient of the Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership in recognition of his work in global bear conservation. The Harry Messel Award is given to up to four international species conservationists at four-year intervals.

Peter Jordan, retired Associate Professor, received the CFANS  2012 Outstanding Club/Student Organization Advisor award in recognition of outstanding contributions as a club and organization advisor and mentor to the college’s undergraduate students. Peter is the FWCB Club advisor and mentor.

Bruce Vondracek, Assistant Leader - Fisheries (MN Coop Unit), received a STAR award for his contributions to graduate programs at the University of Minnesota. Bruce has long-served as the chair of the admissions committee for the Conservation Biology graduate program, and this federal award recognizes the significant contribution that Bruce has made to the University of Minnesota.

2011-2012 Graduate Student Honors and Awards

Marcus Beck, Ph.D. student in the Conservation Biology Graduate Program, was awarded an Interdisciplinary Fellowship for academic year 2012-2013 with the Water Resources Center. Winners are outstanding graduate students who are clearly committed to the interdisciplinary study of the global south in the context of global change.

Kelly Nail, Ph.D. student in the Conservation Biology Graduate Program, won the 2012 President’s Student Leadership and Service award.  This annual award recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of outstanding student leaders at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Graduate degrees were conferred upon:

Brandon Breen (M.S. - Conservation Biology): "Sheep farmers and turkey cultures (Cathartes aura) in the Falkland Islands: From conflict to coexistence."

Advisor: Francie Cuthbert.

Narayan Dhakal (Ph.D. - Conservation Biology): "Assessment of residents' social and economic wellbeing in conservation resettlement: A case study of Padampur, Chitwan National Park, Nepal."

Advisor: Dave Smith.

Kolla Gupisundar (Ph.D. - Conservation Biology): "Bird conservation in rice-dominated districts of Uttar Pradesh, india."

Advisor: Francie Cuthbert.

Justin Silbernagel (M.S. - Fisheries and Aquatic biology): "Field and laboratory studies suggest that recruitment of the invasive Common Carp is controlled by native fish in stable lakes of the Upper Mississippi Basin."

Advisor: Peter Sorensen.

Paul Kapfer (Ph.D. - Conservation Biology): "Bobcat (Lynx rufus) spatial ecology and harvest in Minnesota."

Advisor: Ronald Tilson.

Jake Osborne (M.S. - Fisheries and Aquatic Biology): "Distribution, abundance and overwinter survival of the young-of-the-year common carp in a Midwestern watershed."

Advisor: Peter Sorensen.

Ed Rudberg (Ph.D. - Natural Resources Sci/Mgmt): "Losing our lakes: An assessment of the human dimensions of lakeshore landowner shoreland management."

Advisor: David Fulton.

Christopher Smith (M.S. - Conservation Biology): "Initial response of amphibian and small mammal species to timber and coarse woody debris harvest in Aspen-dominated forests of Northern Minnesota."

Advisor: Ken Kozak.

Ariane Waldstein (M.S. - Natural Resources Sci/Mgmt): "Nest-site selection and nesting ecology of the red-headed woodpeckers."

Advisor: Todd Arnold.

Kate Wyman (M.S. - Conservation Biology): "Methods for refining waterbird colony persistence research and their application to Great Lakes colonial waterbirds."

Advisor: Francie Cuthbert.