Friday, April 26, 2019

Getting Started on a New Project!

Check out this article:
It discusses a new Spot-tailed earless lizard and Desert massasauga habitat assessment project starting in my lab, along with several other NRM and Department of Biology researchers at Texas Tech University.
Here's the link to a quick video:

I'll be updating the blog soon with new graduate student introductions and more project information!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

All current MS and Ph.D. positions for the Texas Herp project have been filled!

I'm very excited to announce that we have hired students for all of the Ph.D. and MS positions currently available on the Texas herp conservation project focusing on Desert massasauga and the Spot-tailed earless lizard. We received an abundance of applications for these positions all together, which implies that the amount of interest in herp conservation at the undergraduate and BS degree level may be growing (at least that's what it seems like to me), which could mean great things for reptile and amphibian conservation in the future.
If you were an applicant for any of these positions and you were not selected, please keep us in mind for potential positions in the future. There are still lots of research questions out there about herps in Texas!
Congratulations to the selected applicants.
New student announcements and bios are soon to come!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Thinking Outside the Box in TTU's RAMP Course

This semester, and every Spring semester at Texas Tech University, I teach the Rangeland Analysis and Management Planning course, or RAMP, as many students and faculty like to call it. I started teaching this course in 2015 and I just thought I would give it a little spotlight here.
The students in this class take many of the natural resource management skills they've learned in previous coursework, and put them to work in the real world. In this class they produce management plans for two different properties after viewing each property, meeting and speaking with the landowner (possibly multiple times), doing a site inventory assessment, analyzing data, and working as a team with students they may never have worked with previously. They build off of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and work very hard to put together a plan that they are proud to offer to the landowner. Each student having a slightly different background allows them to teach each other things that they might not have had time to learn in the coursework for their particular degree plan. I have had luck thus far in gaining access to some fantastic pieces of property in the Texas panhandle region, and I'm excited to see what every new round of the course will bring. New properties and new students mean new ideas and more 'thinking outside the box'.
We need this type of thinking our field now more than ever, with decreases in funding and increases in environmental issues and human development, and I'm happy to be able to encourage it in the courses I teach at TTU.
UPDATE: This course at TTU is now officially designated as a Service Learning course, meaning that the University has recognized the course for its contributions to the public and the local community and students who have taken the course will now have this Service Learning component in their NRM degree. I'm very excited to have this designation and I think it really adds value to the course in the TTU community.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Reflections on the Field Season

Author: J. Coward, Kahl Lab Technician & former TTU student

Photo Credit: ??
My situation as it relates to this project was somewhat unique. By the time I joined James's crew of field technicians there was only one month of the field season left. I was the newest member of an already seasoned and experienced team. My background had been working with Northern Bobwhites, and I had no experience working with waterfowl. Fortunately, James and the other field technicians were enormously helpful in the process of learning the necessary skills to contribute to this project.
Photo Credit: ??
Each day out in the field brought with it a new experience. Early on in the field season I made it my personal goal to learn something new everyday that would be helpful to the project. Some days it would be something simple, such as how to keep your field equipment tidy and organized. Other days it would be something such as how to log field data.  My favorite lesson I learned while in the field was how to take samples from a kayak without falling out. I remember clearly my first morning paddling the kayak I turned it over into a ice-cold pond while trying to retrieve a sample. Other than some well deserved ribbing from my coworkers and a set of soggy waders, I emerged from from that murky water unscathed and with a newly found appreciation for handling the kayak with caution.

Photo Credit:??
With the field season drawing to a close, there are a few main lessons I will take with me as I move on to my next position as a field biologist for Turner Biological Consulting. First and foremost, fix little problems before they become big problems. A little hole in your waders is a minor nuisance that can easily be patched, but if you don't fix it quickly little hole can quickly become a large hole and a much larger problem. Secondly, it's important to start each morning on a positive note. Doing the little things like making a pot of coffee and having the field equipment ready to load up make the whole day start off better. Finally, one of the most essential attributes for working in this field is having an appreciation for small details. In closing, I'd like to say thanks to James, Brandon, Matt, and Dr. Kahl for letting me jump right into this project and having me along for the ride!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Stock Ponds and Waterfowl; How Important Are They?

Author: J. Morel, Ph.D. student

As winter has left us and spring is rapidly approaching summer temperatures, we “duck folks” find ourselves reminiscing upon the previous winter’s research; the interesting or rare species we caught a glimpse of, the inclement conditions endured, or the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of waterfowl seen flying from a roost or feeding area.  These experiences humble, awe, and sometimes frustrate us, but they are also what perpetuate our want and need to learn more about them and the landscape they use. 
Green-winged Teal and northern Shovelers using a pond in east Texas.
Photo Credit: J. Morel
One type of landscape we know very little about, ecologically speaking, is stock ponds…at least as it relates to waterfowl use, that is.  Stock ponds are a relative new comer in the grand scheme of landscape ecosystems, largely developed as water catchments for livestock.  Biologists and land managers have long been managing ponds for fisheries, recreational use, and livestock needs; however, focused efforts on waterfowl use have mostly been limited to studying habitat relationships of breeding waterfowl in the northern Great Plains (Lokemoen 1973, Flake et al. 1977, Ruwaldt et al. 1979, Rumble and Flake 1983, Austin and Buhl 2009).  Very little is known about pond use in the overwintering areas of Texas, particularly central and eastern Texas, in what is collectively known as the Oaks and Prairies ecoregion.  Local biologists have indicated increased waterfowl use on stock ponds in this area, based on annual waterfowl surveys, and is theorized they may act as a major habitat source when surrounding areas are limited by water availability.  However, even during years when water is less limiting, waterfowl seem to be using these pond ecosystems in high numbers. 
Typical pond found in east Texas. Photo Credit: J. Morel
Our lab is currently exploring the importance these stock ponds may have toward overwintering and migrating waterfowl use.  We think stock ponds could be playing a vital role in replenishing energy reserves from migration, supplying energy resources to carry out molting, offering additional habitat which may limit resource competition, and supplying energy needed for spring migration, among other needs.  Scientific literature amply shows that breeding areas in the northern Great Plains are vital to overall population persistence and growth, but could it be these relatively new features on the landscape could be playing a role just as important here in Texas and surrounding areas?  Keep posted to find out more about this project and what we find!

Literature Cited:
Austin, J.E., and D.A. Buhl. 2009. Factors associated with duck use of impounded and natural wetlands in western South Dakota. The Prairie Naturalist 41(1/2) 1-27.
Flake, L.D., G.L. Petersen, and W.L. Tucker. 1977. Habitat relationships of breeding waterfowl on stock ponds in northwestern South Dakota. Proceedings of the South Dakota Academy of Sciences 56:135-151.
Lokemoen, J.T. 1973. Waterfowl production on stock-watering ponds in the northern Great Plains. Journal of Range Management 26:179-184.
Rumble, M.A., and L.D. Flake. 1983. Management considerations to enhance waterfowl use of stock ponds by waterfowl broods. Journal of Range Management 46:1048-1053.
Ruwaldt, J.J., Jr., L.D. Flake, and J.M. Gates. 1979. Waterfowl pair use of natural and man-made wetlands in South Dakota. Journal of Wildlife Management.

Friday, March 18, 2016

My Experience with Waterfowl in the Oaks and Prairie Eco-Region:

Author: B. Garcia, Kahl Lab Technician & former TTU student

First, I would like to introduce myself to who all reads this blog. My name is Brandon Garcia, born and raised in Dallas, Texas. I recently graduated from Texas Tech University of May 2015, in the Natural Resource Department with the degree in Wildlife Biology. Since graduation, I had the opportunity to work on my first field biological technician job in our field, which this blog will be about from what I learned from the project and what knowledge I have gained that will be in use for my future career in the wildlife field. Before working on this project, I was actually volunteering and later interning on a similar project in west Texas working in the Rolling Plains eco-region with waterfowl and their use on stock ponds. By the end of internship, I had heard about my current job working with waterfowl, but in the Oaks and Prairie eco-region working on stock ponds as well. I was still hyped up from my internship and before I knew it, I landed my first biological technician job.
Collecting water quality on one of our ponds. Photo Credit: J. Morel. 

Enjoying a great day of field work. Photo Credit: J. Morel

            This project was looking at why waterfowl from the central flyway use stock ponds in the Oaks and Prairie eco-region. From the first day, we were on a get go on getting work done, which was by seeing what equipment we need to get familiar with. Some of the sampling techniques were going to use in the field season; learn how to sneak up on ponds (very stealth like) and getting familiar what the work schedule was going to be for the next seven months. We all caught on fairly fast, with some hiccups of course along the way. But we all got proficient on the work that needed to be done on a daily basis. Everything from vegetation transects, using key characteristics to identify waterfowl species, and invertebrate sampling and getting that interaction with landowners and working with professionals in our field.

            Using the techniques I had learned in classes and applying them on the field, was the most satisfying feeling I got from the project so far. Its one thing to learn about the science behind methods we use out in the field, but actually applying those methods in the field and getting the experience in collecting creditable data was such an eye opening experience that I received in working on this project. Since the first day to now, I feel I have gained some maturity in applying creditable science in our field for my future career in any direction I want pursue in the wildlife field. For that, I would like to thank my boss, professors, and graduate/PhD students in the Natural Resource Department from Texas Tech University who have made this possible for me. Before I end this post, I can’t forget to mention, WRECK EM’ TECH!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

February Fodder

Author: J. Morel, PhD student

Technicians conducting a waterfowl survey.

Its mid-February and yes, we’re still kicking around in the mud out here!  It’s been a great season thus far and we’ve collected more data than I know what to do with – well, I know what to do with it, but where’s the time?!?!?!  Waterfowl numbers have been plentiful this year, but they’ve been a little frustrating for the hunters, so I hear.  Unprecedented amounts of rainfall in central and eastern Texas has created a lot of options for waterfowl and they seem to have spread out among the available habitat versus being more concentrated on the usual waterbodies folks typically find them using.  Some of the “greatest looking” habitats are holding very few birds, presumably a result of an abundance of habitat.  One of the most peculiar instances we observed was; on a regular basis, we found over 200 mallard drakes sitting in the middle of an over-grazed pasture…I mean, this place was grazed to the bone.  We couldn’t figure out what in the world all these ducks were doing out there – every time we passed the property, for at least a couple of months, they were there!  Our curiosity got the better of us, and we gained permission from the landowner to go check the situation out.  What we found…......ACORNS!!  We surmised that the flooding events washed the acorns from a stand of old growth oak trees about a half mile away into this open field, creating a foraging area that typically would not even be considered waterfowl habitat.  Pretty neat ecological dynamic.  How these birds find the kinds of places like this, I have no idea, but waterfowl never cease to amaze me with things like this.
 Brandon Garcia, making the most with his day off.
During our down time, we did get a couple of duck hunts in this year and were glad to harvest a few birds.  I received a special enjoyment of taking one of our technicians, Brandon, duck hunting for his first time.  It was a special moment to see him take his first bird.  His excitement for hunting got us up several mornings before 5:00 am, even though we knew our hunting spots weren’t ideal and the chances of really “getting into the birds” was slim.  It was sometimes hard for me to be motivated to get up at 4:30 am to hunt when the birds weren’t predictable, but it’s good not to lose sight of those types of experiences.  He didn’t go out expecting to shoot a limit – he just wanted to experience the morning wetland waking up and the hope and chance of a bird passing within gun range.  Hunting is a key ingredient for our work in waterfowl ecology – not only is it a conservation tool that provides scientific data and conservation funding, but maybe more importantly, it gives us perspective for why we love waterfowl and the habitat/natural world that surrounds us.  I recently attended a conference where I learned of an alarming rate in the declining numbers of waterfowl hunters and the number of incoming wildlife students and biologists that have not experienced hunting or even the sun rising on a wetland.  We need these experiences to maintain a healthy perspective of what we believe is worth protecting and conserving, and if nothing more, to feed the soul.  This is who we are.  This is what we do.  This is what makes us conservationists.
James Morel with the first bird of the hunting season, mallard hen.