Biodiversity is rapidly disappearing and ecosystems are rapidly degrading worldwide, and human activity is the primary cause.  Our lab is examining the several critical and emerging threats and working to develop practical solutions to protect and aid the recovery of threatened species and ecosystems.  Our work focuses on these main themes:


Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife

White-nose syndrome on a hibernating little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus). Photo by Chris Hauer.

Emerging infectious diseases pose an increasing global threat to wildlife species in several taxa.  Our lab has focused primarily on white-nose syndrome, a devastating disease of hibernating bats caused by an invasive fungal pathogen.  This disease has caused extensive mortality in affected hibernating bat species across much of North America.  Our work in the lab has focused on the impacts of the disease on regional populations of bats, the ecological and behavioral responses of bats to the disease, and the identification of novel and effective means to manage the pathogen and protect wild bats from white-nose syndrome.


Ecological restoration within working landscapes

Prescribed fire for land management at Fort Indiantown Gap. Photo courtesy of Wildlife Program, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania National Guard

Prescribed fire for land management at Fort Indiantown Gap. Photo courtesy of Wildlife Program, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania National Guard

Working landscapes – land areas for which the primary purpose is not conservation – represent an underutilized resource for conserving biodiversity.  Our lab is conducting applied ecology research to evaluate means to enhance the conservation value of working landscapes.  Current projects focus on facilitating the recovery of at-risk species and ecosystems on military training areas through prescribed fire, sylvicultural treatments, and other land management activities.  Central questions focus on (1) understanding the ecological impacts of military training and management activities on forest, prairie, and riparian ecosystems; (2) evaluating how military training activities and management affect the conservation status of wildlife populations of conservation concern; and (3) developing strategies for maintaining ecosystem services and biodiversity within the context of an active program of military training activities.


Conservation planning in the tropics

The village of Ouallah-Mirereni, Moheli, Union of the Comoros. Photo by Ishaka Said.

Our lab is collaborating with conservation practitioners and local stakeholders to develop and assess effective conservation strategies to combat the impacts of land use change and exploitation on biodiversity in the tropics, through science-based management of endangered species, establishment of protected areas, and other approaches.  In our work, we recognize the inherent social context of threat to biodiversity, and integrate local perspectives and interests into conservation strategies.  Much of this conservation biology work focuses on vertebrate frugivore (fruit-eating primate, bird, and fruit bat) species and/or tropical forest ecosystems, and on the people who live near these forest ecosystems.  We work in areas of exceptional numbers of endemic species occur, including Madagascar, the Comoros Islands (western Indian Ocean), and Benin (West Africa).


Species interactions and biodiversity

A male Sanford’s lemur (Eulemur sanfordi) foraging on a fig (Ficus grevei) tree in Madagascar. Photo by Brent Sewall.

Species commonly interact with each other to obtain needed resources (like energy, nutrients, or shelter) or services (like protection, pollination, or seed dispersal).  Most organisms would not survive – and most communities would not long persist – without these interactions.  Our lab investigates in-depth how species interactions shape biodiversity patterns.  Our work examines how diverse interaction types (host-pathogen, competition, mutualism, and predator-prey interactions) affect the structure and dynamics of ecological communities.


Species invasions

Field crew studying effects of the invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) on native forest plants

A newly invasive insect pest known as the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) poses an important, emerging threat to forest habitats in Pennsylvania.  The spotted lanternfly (SLF) is a planthopper native to northern China but was recorded for the first time in the Americas in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014, suggesting a recent human-mediated introduction.  Since then, it has spread across much of Pennsylvania and to neighboring states.   The SLF is of particular concern as it has the potential to reach exceptionally high abundances within invaded landscapes. and could cause harm to a wide variety of tree, shrub and vine species.  Much remains unknown, however, about these potential impacts.  We are undertaking a collaborative study at the Temple Ambler Field Station to explore impacts of the SLF on some of Pennsylvania’s native plants.