“Field biologists are, on the whole, a guild of extraordinary people—smart, passionate, patient, congenial, and physically as well as intellectually tough.” – David Quammen, The Reluctant Mr Darwin
Alison Kocek accompanied me to visit Michelle Stantial in southern New Jersey. Michelle's study species is the piping plover, a threatened shorebird that has climbed from low numbers along much of the Atlantic Coast thanks to protections from human disturbance and predators. In New Jersey, however, the species is still not increasing despite intensive management efforts, and Michelle is working to understand why. She and her crew must cover an 80-mile long study area each week, because piping plovers nest in a few widely-separated locations in the state. On a given day her team may be banding birds, hiking for miles to look
Ph.D. student Maureen Durkin and her crew drive at a crawling 10 mph along 14 miles of road nearly every day for five months, recording roadkills of the imperiled snowy plover, least tern, and many other wildlife species at Gulf Islands National Seashore in coastal Florida. Maureen is studying the factors affecting reproductive success and population growth of snowy plovers, which are considered threatened in Florida, at a site where they are struggling to persist. In an already difficult environment, the threat of being run over on the paved road that runs the length the site creates an especial challenge for nesting birds and their chicks. Maureen is working with park officials to test strategies for conservation, including
Ph.D. student Amanda Cheeseman and M.S. student Samantha Mello spend their days in the woods of the lower Hudson Valley of New York, where they study the elusive New England cottontail. The only cottontail rabbit native to eastern New York and New England, this once widespread species has dwindled to low numbers in a few remnant strongholds. The decline has been spurred by loss of young forest and shrubland, shifting predator communities, and competition from the non-native eastern cottontail which uses similar habitat. I met the two grad
When not she is not hauling sledfuls of heavy traps up a mountainside in snowshoes or pushing through miles of thorns and poison ivy to check traps or track rabbits, Amanda takes time during the field season to write manuscripts and grants, and to conduct outreach with local conservation and landowner groups. She works hard to try and promote sound management for New England cottontails and other young forest wildlife, and the state wildlife agency often looks to her for advice when planning restoration projects.
In Mid-August much of the Cohen Lab attended The North American Ornithology Conference, where over 2,000 scientists from across the continent convene once every 4 years to present their work on all aspects of bird biology and conservation. I had the pleasure of accompanying seven of my students, my post-doc Abby, and my collaborator Dr. Michael Schummer with whom I co-advise two students. M.S. students Justin Droke and Adam Bleau presented posters on winter and migration interactions between mallards, which are not native to the northeastern US, and American black ducks, a species that has seen a steep population decrease in the last half-century.
As the summer winds down, the members of the Cohen lab do not let up. September saw the impressive performance of Alison Kocek in defending her Master’s thesis on factors affecting presence and nesting success of saltmarsh sparrows and seaside sparrows in the highly urbanized and fragmented salt marshes of New York City. Alison became a Ph.D. student after working for two years on
In my years as an assistant professor, my good fortune in the people who came to work with me never appeared to end. They are indomitable field biologists, avid conservationists, prolific writers, and globe-traveling ambassadors for their projects, their lab, and their school. They have supported each other and me in ways I hope I have repaid. So thanks to all of you, and I look forward to what the next six years will bring!