Mass mortality events
Mass mortality events (MMEs) are catastrophic die-offs within a population and often caused by environmental variability, disease outbreaks, and anthropogenic perturbations. While recent analyses suggest that these catastrophes may be increasing in frequency and intensity for many organisms, particularly in aquatic ecosystems, their ecological and evolutionary implications remain poorly understood. From an ecological perspective, MMEs provide a rapid influx of nutrients, diminish trophic interactions, and may result in extirpation of the affected species. From an evolutionary perspective, MMEs may release the evolutionary potential of unaffected trophic levels and reduce genetic diversity of the affected population, thus hindering their ability to adapt to future environmental conditions. My forthcoming experiments will fill voids in our understanding of the ecological and evolutionary implications of these events, provide explicit examples of the repercussions of increased environmental variability and anthropogenic disturbance, and encourage collective action to address pressing societal issues (Photo credit: noomhh, Adobe Stock).
Damselfly digestive physiology
Organisms often exhibit tradeoffs between physiological attributes to accommodate for various ecological and environmental factors. To understand whether such tradeoffs exist at the species- or population-level, we conducted growth trials with 120 vesper bluet damselfly larvae (Enallagma vesperum) from lakes with contrasting population densities. Before the growth trials began, we induced varying levels of melanization, a generalized immune response for invertebrates, by penetrating the exoskeleton (lower middle) or implanting a microfilament (lower right). Preliminary results suggest that significant infraspecific variation obscures potential tradeoffs between digestive physiology and melanization, and 2) tradeoffs are not fixed at the species-level. Photo by Stephen R. Krotzer.
Natural flow regime of the Gila River, New Mexico
The upper Gila River is one of few major waterways in the southwestern United States that retains a nearly natural flow regime. Dr. Mary Harner, Emma Brinley Buckley, and I are currently examining aerial and satellite imagery (1935-2016) to quantify temporal change in floodplain habitat and channels of this dynamic river. Due to dwindling freshwater resources in the southwestern United States, a diversion was proposed along this particular river segment as part of the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act. This ongoing project aims to document changes over the past century and the current state of the river. Concurrently with this project, Dr. Harner produced a documentary, Life on the Gila, that discusses the future of this majestic river by way of farmers, ranchers, and local residents. Active channels were extracted from NMED, USDA and USGS aerial and satellite imagery. Background image is a modified USGS satellite image from 2016.
My grandfather, Alfred Vigil, was born in Sopris, a small coal mining community along the Purgatoire River in southeastern Colorado. Flooding wretched havoc on communities in the river's floodplain until the construction of Trinidad Reservoir. Sopris and several neighboring communities were buried beneath the rising water. My brother, Nathan Tye, and I compiled our grandfather's records and created a website (www.sopris.co) to share the history of this community and honor its residents. Background images are modified USGS satellite imagery from 1971 and 2016, respectively.
Day roost selection
Limited information is available about bat roosts in riparian corridors of the southwestern United States. This region is increasingly threatened by climate change, severe drought, and overuse of freshwater resources. We used radiotelemetry to document day roosts of four Myotis species (M. auriculus, M. occultus, M. thysanodes, and M. yumanensis) along the Mimbres River, one of the last naturally-flowing waterways in New Mexico. Our data represented some of the first documented roosts for these Myotis species in several deciduous tree species, arid riparian corridors, and New Mexico.
Life of a North American beaver lodge
North American beavers (Castor canadensis) inhabit and modify waterbodies throughout the continent. Positive associations between various beaver-modified terrains and non-beaver fauna are well-documented, though limited information is available about species directly associated with beaver structures. For the past several years, Michael Forsberg, the Platte Basin Time-lapse Project, and I have used time-lapse photography to document the structural and ecological dynamics of a beaver lodge in a human-made lake near the Platte River in south-central Nebraska. To date, we have collected over 200,000 images and 3,000 videos that detail the life history of a beaver colony and the wide variety of organisms that make use of their lodge. Images property of Michael Forsberg and the Platte Basin Timelapse Project. Data visualizations created in R with the activity package and modified with Adobe Illustrator CC.
The northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septenrionalis) has experienced pervasive population declines in eastern portions of its distribution and is currently listed as threatened and endangered in the United States and Canada, respectively. We used time-lapse photography to document night-roosting behaviors of this imperiled species beneath a wooden bridge in northwestern Nebraska. This region harbors some of the species' westernmost populations in the United States, which will be the last populations affected white nose syndrome. Images property of Keith Geluso. Video created in Adobe After Effects CC.
Sounds of the Platte River Valley
Ben Gottesman, a doctoral candidate at Purdue University's Center for Global Soundscapes, collected years of bioacoustics data to examine wildlife communities near the Platte and Niobrara Rivers. As his technician, I maintained acoustic recorders (right) mounted near solar-powered, DSLR camera systems (left) owned by the Platte Basin Timelapse Project to document the sights and sounds of threatened prairie ecosystems. This collaboration elucidated temporal partitioning by resident and migratory species at regional conservation areas, as well as provided reliable long-term datasets of grassland bird phenologies.