Habitat use as indicator of adaptive capacity to climate change

A male moose lounges in the grass. Image by David Mark from Pixabay.


Populations of cold‐adapted species at the trailing edges of geographic ranges are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change from the combination of exposure to warm temperatures and high sensitivity to heat. Many of these species are predicted to decline under future climate scenarios, but they could persist if they can adapt to warming climates either physiologically or behaviourally. We aim to understand local variation in contemporary habitat use and use this information to identify signs of adaptive capacity. We focus on moose (Alces alces), a charismatic species of conservation and public interest.


The northeastern United States, along the trailing edge of the moose geographic range in North America.


We compiled data on occurrences and habitat use of moose from remote cameras and GPS collars across the northeastern United States. We use these data to build habitat suitability models at local and regional spatial scales and then to predict future habitat suitability under climate change. We also use fine‐scale GPS data to model relationships between habitat use and temperature on a daily temporal scale and to predict future habitat use.


We find that habitat suitability for moose will decline under a range of climate change scenarios. However, moose across the region differ in their use of climatic and habitat space, indicating that they could exhibit adaptive capacity. We also find evidence for behavioural responses to weather, where moose increase their use of forested wetland habitats in warmer places and/or times.

Main conclusions

Our results suggest that there will be significant shifts in moose distribution due to climate change. However, if there is spatial variation in thermal tolerance, trailing‐edge populations could adapt to climate change. We highlight that prioritizing certain habitats for conservation (i.e., thermal refuges) could be crucial for this adaptation.

Teitelbaum CS, Sirén AP, Coffel E, Foster JR, Frair JL, Hinton JW, Horton RM, Kramer DW, Lesk C, Raymond C, Wattles DW. Habitat use as indicator of adaptive capacity to climate change. Diversity and Distributions. 2021. https://doi.org/10.1111/ddi.13223

Climate, Fire Regime, Geomorphology, and Conspecifics Influence the Spatial Distribution of Chinook Salmon Redds

Image of a portion of the Middle Salmon Fork stream taken by helicopter. Photo provided by Greg Jacobs.

Pacific salmon spawning and rearing habitats result from dynamic interactions among geomorphic processes, natural disturbances, and hydro‐climatological factors acting across a range of spatial and temporal scales. We used a 21‐year record of redd locations in a wilderness river network in central Idaho, USA, to examine which covariates best predict the spawning occurrence of Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha and how shifts under a changing climate might affect habitat availability. We quantified geomorphic characteristics (substrate size, channel slope, and valley confinement), climatic factors (stream temperature and summer discharge), wildfire, and conspecific abundance (as inferred by the number of redds) throughout the network. We then built and compared logistic regression models that estimated redd occurrence probability as a function of these covariates in 1‐km reaches throughout the network under current and projected climate change scenarios. Redd occurrence was strongly affected by nearly all of the covariates examined. The best models indicated that climate‐driven changes in redd occurrence probabilities will be relatively small but spatially heterogeneous, with warmer temperatures increasing occurrence probabilities in cold, high‐elevation reaches and decreasing probabilities in warm, low‐elevation reaches. Furthermore, positive effects of wildfire on redd occurrence may be more important than climate‐driven effects on stream temperature and summer discharge, although climate‐related changes in temperature and scour regime during the egg incubation period may influence survival to emergence. Our results identify where favorable spawning habitats are likely to exist under climate change, how future habitat distributions may differ from contemporary conditions, and where habitat conservation might be prioritized. Furthermore, the positive occurrence–abundance relationship we observed indicates that the study site is underseeded, and effective management actions are needed for increasing the recruitment of spawning adults to take advantage of available habitat.

Figure 3 from the paper showing (A) Observed salmon occurrence, (B) model-predicted contemporary occurence, (C) model-predicted change in salmon occurrence in 2040 and (D) 2080 under climate change scenarios.

Jacobs GR, Thurow RF, Buffington JM, Isaak D, Wenger SJ. Climate, Fire Regime, Geomorphology, and Conspecifics Influence the Spatial Distribution of Chinook Salmon Redds. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 2020.


Dead litter of resident species first facilitates and then inhibits sequential life stages of range‐expanding species

  1. Resident species can facilitate invading species (biotic assistance) or inhibit their expansion (biotic resistance). Species interactions are often context‐dependent and the relative importance of biotic assistance versus resistance could vary with abiotic conditions or the life stage of the invading species, as invader stress tolerances and resource requirements change with ontogeny. In northeast Florida salt marshes, the abundant dead litter (wrack) of the native marsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, could influence the expansion success of the black mangrove, Avicennia germinans, a tropical species that is expanding its range northward.
  2. We used two field experiments to examine how S. alterniflora wrack affects A. germinans success during (a) propagule establishment and (b) subsequent seedling survival. We also conducted laboratory feeding assays to identify propagule consumers and assess how wrack presence influences herbivory on mangrove propagules.
  3. Spartina alterniflora wrack facilitated A. germinans establishment by promoting propagule recruitment, retention and rooting; the tidal regime influenced the magnitude of these effects. However, over time S. alterniflora wrack inhibited A. germinans seedling success by smothering seedlings and attracting herbivore consumers. Feeding assays identified rodents—which seek refuge in wrack—as consumers of A. germinans propagules.
  4. Synthesis. Our results suggest that the deleterious effects of S. alterniflora wrack on A. germinans seedling survival counterbalance the initial beneficial effects of wrack on A. germinans seed establishment. Such seed‐seedling conflicts can arise when species stress tolerances and resource requirements change throughout development and vary with abiotic conditions. In concert with the tidal conditions, the relative importance of positive and negative interactions with wrack at each life stage can influence the rate of local and regional mangrove expansion. Because interaction strengths can change in direction and magnitude with ontogeny, it is essential to examine resident–invader interactions at multiple life stages and across environmental gradients to uncover the mechanisms of biotic assistance and resistance during invasion.

Smith RS, Blaze JA, Byers JE. Dead litter of resident species first facilitates and then inhibits sequential life stages of range‐expanding species. Journal of Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13586

Graduate Student Symposium Schedule 2021

Here is the Zoom Link (Meeting ID: 917 3821 1238, Passcode: 674466). You will need to be registered via this link.

Friday, February 5

Welcoming Remarks

10:00-10:15Dean John Gittleman, Jeffrey Beauvais, Nate Tomczyk

Session I (Moderator: Rebecca Atkins)

10:15-10:30Claire TeitelbaumUrbanization and habitat specialization interact to drive infection outcomes for mobile wildlife
10:30-10:45Laura NaslundThe effects of ecosystem modification and network position on contaminant fluxes from a mountaintop mining-impacted river network
10:45-11:00Amy A. BriggsLocal vs. site-level effects of algae on coral microbial communities
11:00-11:15William WhiteDams and fried green tomatoes: Natural history and sense of place in conservation decisions
11:15 – 11:30 Break

Session II (Moderator: Rebecca Atkins)

11:30-11:45Kelsey J. SolomonSmall decreases in total canopy cover can significantly affect algal communities in southern Appalachian headwater streams
11:45-12:00Robert L. RichardsThe macro-ecology of predator-prey-parasite interactions
12:00-12:15Kyle ConnellyGetting pumped: Spatial, temporal, and economic drivers of septic tank maintenance intervals in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia
12:15–2:00LunchGraduate student lunch with Dr. Ethell Vereen

Rapid Fire Session I (Moderator: TJ Odom)

2:00-2:35Daniel C. SuhPatterns in host abundance, species richness, and species evenness reveal amphibian communities highly susceptible to Ranavirus
 Christopher R. SmagaEffects of precocious estrogen on alligator ovarian development
 Carolyn CumminsWhere will carbon go when it enters warmer streams? A test of temperature effects on shredder physiology
 Ashley BallewMonarch butterflies: Diet and infection
2:35 – 3:00 Break
Session III (Moderator: TJ Odom)
3:00-3:15Doreen ChaussadasImpacts of bio-loggers’ weight on their carrier: is 5% of the body mass an acceptable charge to put on a birds’ back?
3:15-3:30Kristen J. ZemaitisEcotoxicology and diet of the American alligator as a function of ontogenetic shift and prey selection
3:30-3:45Anna R. WilloughbyTourist-provided resources impact park wildlife and their parasite communities
3:45 – 4:00 Break

Poster Session
4:00 – 5:30 Virtual Poster Session (Zoom link)
Breakout Room 1:  
Corinna HazelrigBatrachochytriunm dendrobatidis prevalence throughout amphibian species and life stages of varying skin keratin richness

Christopher Brandon – Walking while parasitized: Effects of a nematode parasite on locomotion activity of horned passalus beetles

Breakout Room 2:
Caroline Aikins – Inferring diet of ringtails (Bassariscus astutus) from latrines in human-impacted park habitats

Mikey Fager – Tipping streams: Does increased temperature change the balance of carbon and nutrients in food resources?

Amelia Foley – Plastic in the urban environment: An exploratory study of microplastics in the Athens, GA community

Breakout Room 3:
Will Ellis – How parasites influence ecosystems: Studying the varied effects of a trematode parasite on its environment

Jessica Mitchell – Assessing the response of aquatic detritivore insects to experimental warming

Niki Gajjar – Morphological root traits and phylogenetic signals in Southern Africa trees and grasses

Saturday, February 6

Session IV (Moderator: Carolyn Cummins)

10:00-10:15Laura V. KojimaAssessing the consumption risk of American alligators on the Savannah River Site
10:15-10:30Jeffrey BeauvaisDemographic drivers of coastal water access in South Carolina
10:30-10:45Kate SabeyAntibiotic treatment alters gut microbiota plasticity in a wild mammal
10:45 – 11:00 Break

Rapid Fire Session II (Moderator: Carolyn Cummins)

11:00-11:40Emily M. BertucciIntrinsic and extrinsic factors interact during development to influence telomere dynamics in a long-lived apex predator
 Anna Y. BaynesFish habitat preference with changes in flow pattern in the Conasauga River, GA
 Cece WorkingHost and environment predict nematode development across temperatures
 Corinne M SweeneyRadiocesium transfer between aquatic and terrestrial environments
 Q & A
11:40 – 12:00 Break

Keynote Address

12:00-12:10Dr. Erin LippIntroduction
12:10-1:10Dr. Ethell Vereen Jr.Life in Flowing Water

Urban specialization reduces habitat connectivity by a highly mobile wading bird

Figure 2. Observed and simulated ibis networks Claire used in her analysis.
Provided by Claire Teitelbaum.


Mobile animals transport nutrients and propagules across habitats, and are crucial for the functioning of food webs and for ecosystem services. Human activities such as urbanization can alter animal movement behavior, including site fidelity and resource use. Because many urban areas are adjacent to natural sites, mobile animals might connect natural and urban habitats. More generally, understanding animal movement patterns in urban areas can help predict how urban expansion will affect the roles of highly mobile animals in ecological processes.


Here, we examined movements by a seasonally nomadic wading bird, the American white ibis (Eudocimus albus), in South Florida, USA. White ibis are colonial wading birds that forage on aquatic prey; in recent years, some ibis have shifted their behavior to forage in urban parks, where they are fed by people. We used a spatial network approach to investigate how individual movement patterns influence connectivity between urban and non-urban sites. We built a network of habitat connectivity using GPS tracking data from ibis during their non-breeding season and compared this network to simulated networks that assumed individuals moved indiscriminately with respect to habitat type.


We found that the observed network was less connected than the simulated networks, that urban-urban and natural-natural connections were strong, and that individuals using urban sites had the least-variable habitat use. Importantly, the few ibis that used both urban and natural habitats contributed the most to connectivity.


Habitat specialization in urban-acclimated wildlife could reduce the exchange of propagules and nutrients between urban and natural areas, which has consequences both for beneficial effects of connectivity such as gene flow and for detrimental effects such as the spread of contaminants or pathogens.

Claire S. Teitelbaum, Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymerman, Anjelika Kidd-Weaver, Sonia M. Hernandez, Sonia Altizer, Richard J. Hall. Urban specialization reduces habitat connectivity by a highly mobile wading bird. Movement Ecology 8, 49 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40462-020-00233-7

Kaylee earns best talk award at ESA!

Our very own Kaylee Arnold won best talk for her presentation, “The gut microbial diversity of a Chagas disease vector varies across coinfection status throughout central Panama” in the Medical, Urban, & Veterinary Entomology section of the Entomological Society of America at their annual meeting. Read below for her abstract. Congratulations, Kaylee!

Kaylee’s study organism, the triatomine or kissing bug. Picture provided by Linda Tanner via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi that is carried in the guts of hematophagous triatomine vectors. Triatomines are often coinfected with the parasite T. rangeli, which is non-pathogenic to mammals but can reduce fitness of their triatomine hosts. This study examined the gut microbial diversity of T. cruzi infected, coinfected, and uninfected triatomines (n = 288) throughout central Panama. We hypothesized that single and coinfected triatomines would have greater gut microbial diversity than uninfected individuals due to pathogen-microbe interactions within the gut, which can facilitate the proliferation of less dominant bacterial taxa.

Coinfections were found in 13% of individuals (40/288) and there was significantly greater alpha diversity in coinfected individuals when compared to both single and uninfected samples (Dunn’s test of multiple comparisons, p < 0.001). Furthermore, single T. cruzi infections were found in 34% of sampled individuals (91/288) and also displayed significantly greater alpha diversity when compared to uninfected individuals (Kruskal-Wallis H test, p < 0.001). Across all samples, Sphingomonas was the most dominant taxa, and decreased in relative abundance compared to uninfected individuals. Finally, the beta diversity across infected samples was significantly different compared to uninfected samples (PERMANOVA p = 0.001 using Bray-Curtis dissimilarity). These results highlight patterns of microbial diversity which may be impacted by vector infection status and will be important to consider when developing vector control strategies.

Lexi Kenna defends Master’s Thesis!

Congratulations, Lexi! Here is the abstract of her thesis, entitled Invertebrate herbivory of understory trees in the Georgia Piedmont in response to soil warming:

As the global mean surface temperature increases, changes in biogeochemical cycling have the potential to have cascading effects on plant and invertebrate interactions. Previous warming studies have primarily been conducted in recently glaciated, more fertile soils, and the response of plant and invertebrate interactions to warming is unclear in lower latitude, less fertile soils of the Georgia Piedmont. In this study, I examined leaf and soil chemistry (%N, C:N) and herbivore damage (% leaf area consumed) from understory tree seedlings of the Georgia Piedmont. Carbon and nitrogen foliar content and invertebrate herbivory did not respond to warming in any year, but there were interactive effects of temperature and species. Overall, warming did not have an indirect effect on plant-herbivore interactions, which is likely due to Piedmont soils containing less available nitrogen. However, species-level variation in response to warming has implications for forest composition changes.

Identifying correlates of Guinea worm (Dracunculus medinensis) infection in domestic dog populations

Figure 1. Map of spatial hotspots of Dmedinensis infection in dogs.

The eradication of human infectious diseases has proven remarkably difficult. The world has only succeeded once, in the case of the smallpox virus. However, international efforts have driven the debilitating Guinea worm parasite closer to the brink of eradication than nearly any other parasite. Coordinated efforts by the Ministries of Health in endemic countries, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, The Carter Center, and the World Health Organization have reduced the number of annual Guinea worm cases from millions in the 1980s to hundreds in the early 2010s, but recently a new threat has emerged. Guinea worm infections have been diagnosed in domestic dogs, particularly in the Republic of Chad, and numbers of infections have continued to increase. As in many countries where dracunculiasis is endemic, the campaign for eradication in Chad has focused intervention measures on interrupting transmission among humans, so infection in dogs jeopardizes eradication efforts. In this study, we used machine learning methods to identify demographic, geographic, and climatic factors associated with the presence of Guinea worm-infected dogs at the village level, and spatial clustering of dog cases regionally. A combination of demographic, geographic and climatic factors were important correlates of infection at the village level, but the importance of these factors varied between northern and southern populations of the parasite. At the larger village cluster level, the geographic position and climate of a village were most important. Some of our findings, including the importance of fishing villages and the difference in correlates between northern and southern villages can be used by researchers to guide additional data collection and by public health workers to better target eradication efforts. More generally, this work contributes to a broader understanding of the spatial patterning of multi-host infectious diseases of humans and animals.

Richards RL, Cleveland CA, Hall RJ, Tchindebet Ouakou P, Park AW, Ruiz-Tiben E, Weiss A, Yabsley MJ, Ezenwa VO. Identifying correlates of Guinea worm (Dracunculus medinensis) infection in domestic dog populations. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 2020 Sep 14;14(9):e0008620. https://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article?id=10.1371/journal.pntd.0008620

Laura Rack defends Ecology Master’s Thesis

Written by Mikey Fager, OSE undergraduate and Rosemond lab member

Humans and aquatic biota both rely heavily on the many services that river and stream systems provide. Water managers and conservation scientists need to determine the possible effects that increases in the frequency and duration of droughts due to climate change may have on ecosystem processes within these systems. Looking at the ways that different taxa in the systems respond to low-flow conditions can be immensely helpful in improving water infrastructure and management for both humans and aquatic organisms

Laura’s masters thesis research does just this, as she analyzed a variety of literature to assess how algae, invertebrates, and fishes respond to extended periods of low flow in streams and rivers, using the Upper Flint River Basin as her focal system. In the first two chapters, Laura hypothesized that algal biomasses would increase, while richness and density of aquatic invertebrates (particularly filter-feeders) and fish abundance would decrease during periods of low flows. She also outlined the different studies she would be reviewing for each taxonomic group, while noting the importance of considering study context such as stream size and average flow variation when drawing conclusions and discussing implications. Laura found that when low-flow events occur, abundance of algae generally increases, while the numbers of aquatic invertebrates and fishes tend to decline. She goes on to explain that droughts can lead to other events like loss of key plant species and warmer overall channel temperatures, which will likely compound the effects of low flows. Laura’s research expertly identifies the areas of concern that water managers, conservationists, and other stakeholders need to consider. Her work highlights essential research to be done towards understanding the explicit responses perennial systems have to low-flow events, in order for managers and ecologists alike to alleviate the stress that droughts may cause. 

Rack, L., 2020. Evaluating Low Streamflow Effects on Biota to Support Management in Perennial Systems. Master’s Thesis, University of Georgia.