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Wildlife and forestry research
Learn about wildlife and forestry research
Measuring songbird habitat along the Lower Wisconsin River.

Measuring songbird habitat along the Lower Wisconsin River.

Invasive species removal.

Invasive species removal.

Tree-row removal, before and after treatment.

Tree-row removal, before and after treatment.


Henslow's sparrow being banded, SWGSCA.

Henslow's sparrow being banded, SWGSCA.

Wildlife and Forestry Research - Habitat

Wisconsin is home to a variety of habitats that help sustain a diversity of plant and animal species. The diversity of native, altered, degenerated, and restored habitats produce many management questions, needs, and challenges.

Habitat research is conducted to help monitor response to various management techniques used in solving environmental problems, documenting wildlife and plant responses, evaluating management techniques, restoring native habitat, improving land management, and providing recommendations to land managers.

Wildlife and forestry researchers are currently involved with the following projects relating to habitat research:

Grasslands

Evaluation of the Wisconsin grassland bird conservation area concept

Current research shows that landscape context plays an important role in determining the abundance and productivity of nesting grassland birds. Traditional grassland habitat management and conservation delivery has not recognized the importance of landscape context, nor has it occurred with specific population and habitat goals that allow for periodic evaluation and adaptive management.

The Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI) created the Strategic Grassland Implementation plan to address these issues. Specifically, it includes the Grassland Bird Conservation Area (GBCA) concept to step down the regional USFWS Joint Venture bird population and habitat goals. GBCA's consist of a large (>2,000 acres) core of permanent grassland surrounded by a matrix of long-term grassland patches embedded in an open, relatively treeless agricultural landscape at least 10,000 acres in size.

The objective of this project is to evaluate the WBCI Strategic Grassland Implementation Plan, specifically the concept of, and assumptions behind, GBCA's. These assumptions include the size and shape of the core grassland area, as well as the amount and configuration of grassland patches in the agricultural matrix surrounding the core. We are interested in the relationships between grassland bird density and productivity and these landscape-scale factors. We are conducting the evaluation in three focal grassland landscapes: the Southwest Wisconsin Grassland and Stream Conservation Area, the Western Prairie Habitat Restoration Area, and the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area. Each of these focal landscapes includes at least 3 GBCA's.

Project timeline: 2012 - 2015

Lead DNR scientist: David Sample

Wisconsin sustainable planting and harvesting guidelines for nonforest biomass

The development of science-based guidelines in advance of widespread biomass planting and harvesting in Wisconsin is intended to help ensure sustainability of and, whenever possible, benefit the natural resources of the state. These voluntary guidelines may be used in making policy, land management, research and natural resources decisions and will help make informed decisions for bioenergy production on both public and private lands throughout Wisconsin. The Guidelines provide general guidance for site and crop selection and more specific management guidelines for biomass projects within the categories: perennial grasslands, non-forest tree and shrub, wetlands, and crop residue. The guidelines focus on perennial and/or diverse plantings that promote environmental benefits. The guidelines were written using current scientific knowledge and have gone through scientific review and public comment.

Project timeline: 2009 - 2011

Lead DNR scientist: Scott Hull

Impacts of non-forest biomass production on wildlife in Wisconsin

This study will a) Foster and implement interdisciplinary research on the relationships between biomass and other alternative energy production systems and agricultural and grassland ecosystems - including ecologic, economic, and sociological parameters - in Wisconsin through the Agricultural Ecosystems Research Group; b) Compare grassland bird density and nesting productivity between potential biomass energy crops, including monotypic switchgrass, low-diversity mixes of several native warm season grasses, and diverse plantings of multiple native grasses and prairie forb species; and c) Model future landscape scenarios illustrating potential biomass markets, as well as the impacts of future land use/land cover changes on wildlife Species of Greatest Conservation Need, and identify landscape configurations that may simultaneously offer opportunities for economic development and wildlife enhancement.

Project timeline: 2009 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: David Sample

A multi-scale approach to managing prairie and grassland resources in southwest Wisconsin agricultural landscapes

This study is in the publication phase of looking at the effects of removing wooded fencerows bisecting cool-season Conservation Reserve Program grasslands on nesting grassland birds and their predators. This research project will result in recommendations for the management of linear woody cover in grasslands that will benefit nesting grassland birds. Grassland birds are of high conservation concern at both the state and continental levels, due to population declines that exceed those of any other group of birds (e.g., forest, wetland, urban).

Project timeline: 2004 - 2012

Lead DNR scientist: David Sample

Management impacts on and species composition of prairie invertebrate communities

Which species constitute prairie invertebrate communities is mostly unknown, as are their habitat requirements, and the effects of common management practices such as fire. This is information that is needed to make sound preserve selection and management decisions. A five state (WI, MN, IA, IL, OH) cooperative composed of state, federal, and private partnerships is conducting this study. This study will develop species lists of potential Wisconsin prairie specialist macro invertebrates; develop lists of species or taxonomic groups that have a high degree of probability of being remnant-restricted specialists; determine which of the species are truly remnant-restricted and how they are affected by remnant size, isolation, and management. This information is critical to making land acquisition and management decisions that could maintain the invertebrate portion of an endangered ecosystem.

Project timeline: 1995 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: Rich Henderson

Distribution and status in WI of Silphium gall-wasps and associated insects

The goal of this project is to provide enough distribution, status, and host information to allow for determination of what, if any, of 9 species of Antistrophus gall wasp species, or their associated parasitic wasps and beetles, warrant being listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need or Endangered/Threatened in WI. The genus Antistrophus (Cynipidae:Hymenoptera) is a little known group of gall-forming wasps. They are prairie-specialist insects that require plants of the genus Silphium. A community of nearly a dozen species of parasitic wasps are associated with these gall-wasps, one (Eurytoma lutea) is a probable specialist on Antistrophus spp., and many of the others are poorly known. In addition, the larvae of a rarely collected species of Mordellid beetle (Mordellistena aethiops) and a Clerid beetle are also associated with the galls. This study will document the occurrence, distribution, and status of these species.

Project timeline: 2010 - 2013

Lead DNR scientist: Rich Henderson

Wetlands

Ecology and control of purple loosestrife

This study will develop and evaluate management strategies (including biological control) to control purple loosestrife. Findings from this study will document the negative effects of purple loosestrife on native vegetation and may diminish the threat purple loosestrife currently poses to the health and productivity of Wisconsin wetlands. Research conducted on the ecology and control of purple loosestrife resulted in legislation declaring loosestrife a noxious weed, changed emphasis of purple loosestrife management from mechanical and chemical control to biological control, was instrumental in establishing the department's biological control program for purple loosestrife, and raised the consciousness of citizens regarding the threats of invasive species.

Project timeline: 1986 - 2013

Lead DNR scientist: Rich Henderson

Potential effects of climate change on inland glacial lakes and implications for lake-dependent biota in Wisconsin

DNR Science Services received a $100K grant from the Focus on Energy EERD program to assess the potential impacts of climate change on lakes and lake-dependent wildlife in northern Wisconsin. The common loon (Gavia immer) was chosen to serve as a sentinel lake-dependent piscivorous species to be used in the development of a template for linking primary lake-dependent biota endpoints (e.g., decline in productivity and/or breeding range contraction) to important lake quality indicators. In the current project, we evaluate how changes in freshwater habitat quality (specifically lake clarity) may impact common loon lake occupancy in Wisconsin. The methods employed here provide a template for studies where integration of physical and biotic models is used to project future conditions under various climate change scenarios.

Project timeline: 2008 - 2012

Lead DNR scientists: Michael Meyer, Paul Rasmussen, and Paul Garrison

Restoration

Evaluation of landscape management in the Stewardship Fund's Habitat Restoration Area Program

We are evaluating the wildlife response to restoration of wetlands and grasslands within the 840-mi2 Glacial Habitat Restoration Area (GHRA) in southeastern Wisconsin. We annually survey three groups of wildlife species (dabbling ducks, ring-necked pheasants, and non-game grassland birds) on and off the GHRA to quantify the benefit of their management. Study is ongoing as management proceeds towards the restoration goals.

Project timeline: 1991 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: Ron Gatti

Measure the value of wildlife habitat restoration on northern Wisconsin Lakes: The Wisconsin Shoreland Restoration Project

This study quantifies the ecological benefits of shoreland habitat conservation and restoration by measuring aquatic ecosystem health (via biotic surveys) before, during, and after conservation and restoration activities on five developed lakes in northcentral Wisconsin. Projects restore and conserve native vegetation within the shoreland riparian buffer and littoral zone of private and public properties participating in the project, and biologists quantify the benefits of restoration activities by conducting habitat and plant and animal species surveys at reference, control, and treatment lakes before restoration occurs and in subsequent years. Findings will support revisions to NR115 Shoreland Management Rules.

Project timeline: 2007 - 2017

Lead DNR scientist: Michael Meyer

Ashland/Chequamegon Bay Shoreland Restoration Project 2010-2012

DNR Science Services received a $223K grant from the USEPA Great Lakes Research Initiative in 2010 to conduct a 4100' shoreland restoration project on Chequamegon Bay in the City of Ashland. Projects are ongoing in Memorial and Bayview Parks where invasive species have been removed and native trees, shrubs, and groundcover has been planted. Restoration work is scheduled for completion December 2012 and biotic surveys to measure habitat quality and wildlife response to the restorations will continue through 2022. This project will provide guidance to efforts to restore degraded shorelines on the southern shore of Lake Superior.

Project timeline: 2010 - 2020

Lead DNR scientists: Michael Meyer and Brick Fevold

Impacts of non-forest biomass production on wildlife in Wisconsin

This study will a) Foster and implement interdisciplinary research on the relationships between biomass and other alternative energy production systems and agricultural and grassland ecosystems - including ecologic, economic, and sociological parameters - in Wisconsin through the Agricultural Ecosystems Research Group; b) Compare grassland bird density and nesting productivity between potential biomass energy crops, including monotypic switchgrass, low-diversity mixes of several native warm season grasses, and diverse plantings of multiple native grasses and prairie forb species; and c) model future landscape scenarios illustrating potential biomass markets, as well as the impacts of future land use/land cover changes on wildlife Species of Greatest Conservation Need, and identify landscape configurations that may simultaneously offer opportunities for economic development and wildlife enhancement.

Project timeline: 2009 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: David Sample

Developing a system for adaptive management on the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area

Important Bird Areas (IBAs) include some of the most important sites for maintaining biodiversity in Wisconsin. Individual IBAs often incorporate multiple ownerships with diverse management goals. This project integrates bird inventory and monitoring, habitat analysis, and partnership-building on one 15,000-acre IBA. Standardized techniques allow comparisons with other IBAs and the southern Wisconsin landscape, and between properties within the IBA; and incorporate citizen science projects and a pioneering adaptation of the eBird program. The partnership identifies focal species and habitats, and develops and evaluates management goals and plans at the IBA and individual property scales so that biodiversity and bird populations benefit at both property and IBA (landscape) scales. The results are applicable to other landscape-scale conservation areas.

Project timeline: 2006 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: Mike Mossman

Developing and piloting a long-term monitoring protocol for breeding forest and barrens birds on the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, Wisconsin

The 90-mile-long Lower Wisconsin State Riverway (LWSR) and more inclusive Lower Wisconsin River Important Bird Area (LWR IBA) support a high diversity and density of breeding birds, including many Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN)--the most significant of which are those of upland and floodplain forests and sand barrens. The LWSR incorporates both public and private properties and is managed for a variety of goals including agriculture and forest products, forest health, natural area quality, wilderness, recreation, fish and wildlife resources. This project develops a system for inventorying and monitoring breeding-bird populations (using point-counts and transects) and their forest and barrens habitats (using augmented forest recon) to gauge the effects of various management options. The ultimate goal is to model these effects and provide guidance for integrated management decisions that will maintain or increase biodiversity in this large landscape, especially for species and communities for which the LWSR is crucial.

Project timeline: 2009 - 2013

Lead DNR scientist: Mike Mossman

An assessment of the vulnerability and adaptation strategies of Wisconsin's wildlife to climate change

The goal of this project is to develop risk assessments and white papers for the impact of global climate change on Wisconsin's wildlife resources as part of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI). WICCI is a collaboration between scientists at the University of Wisconsin campuses and the Wisconsin DNR to prepare for the impacts of climate change in Wisconsin. The goal of the WICCI Wildlife Working Group is to collaboratively synthesize existing climate research as it pertains to Wisconsin, set priorities for research, and generate management strategies to address future climate change impacts utilizing applied research, modeling, and adaptive management. The initial project of the WICCI Wildlife Working Group will be to synthesize information on the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on Wisconsin's wildlife resources that are likely to occur over the next 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 years.

Project timeline: 2010 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientists: Karl Martin, Michael Meyer, and David Sample

Last revised: Monday February 04 2013