Background: My goal is to make a difference and have fun doing it. My depth training and experience is in landscape ecology and natural resource management, particularly as applied to agricultural, forest, and wildlife ecology, although I also draw strongly upon the social sciences in my work. Iowa has been home since 2003, but I spent the early part of my career studying forests in the Great Lakes region. I am co-owner of my family farm near Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Research Interests: I study human-landscape interactions. More specifically, my research addresses the ecological and social facets of sustainable land management through the lens of coupled human and natural systems. Several current projects address the strategic integration of perennials into agricultural landscapes to meet multifunctional societal goals. Other projects address the establishment of establishment of restoration baselines and impacts of restoration practices. I use a combination of historical investigation, field studies, modeling, and both quantitative and qualitative inquiry. While my research spans local (1-10 km2) to regional scales (10,000-100,000 km2), my focus is on informing landscape (10-10,000 km2) management. The strength of my research lies in synthesis, integration, and partnerships: I make use of extensive collaborative networks to bolster the breadth, rigor, and impact of my work.

Honors: Iowa State University Early Career Award in Teaching (2007), Teaching Award of Merit from the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (2007), Stanford University Leopold Leadership Fellow (2013), Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow (2014), University of Minnesota Duluth Academy of Science and Engineering Inductee (2017), 2018 ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Team Award, and ISU Ivy College of Business innovationENTREPRENEUR Award (2020). I am on the editorial board of the scientific journal BioScience, a member of the “Rapid Response Team” of the Ecological Society of America, on the science advisory board of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, on the board of trustees of the Iowa Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and on the board of directors of the Iowa Wildlife Federation and Practical Farmers of Iowa. I previously served on the editorial board for the journal, Landscape Ecology (2010-2015).

Strengths: Learner, Achiever, Focus, Futuristic, Analytical

Personal Interests: Pete, Freddy, Raymond, and Spencer - particularly when we get outdoors.

Potential Students: Would you like to pursue a graduate program through the lab? For information on my suggested application process, mentoring philosophy, and expectations of graduate students in my lab, please visit the “Joining the Lab” page.

Lisa Schulte Moore

Working dissertation title: The Impact of Prairie Strips and Other Agricultural Land Uses on Grassland Biodiversity 

Adviser: Lisa Schulte Moore 

From growing up in eastern Nebraska, I have always been interested in the relationship between wildlife and agriculture. My first field research experience at the University of Nebraska involved nest survival of songbirds on conventional and organic farms. After graduating, I moved to Texas to pursue a M.S. in wildlife biology. My research there examined nest survival and predation of White-tipped Doves (a south Texas gamebird) in the Lower Rio Grande Valley along the U.S. - Mexico border. I have also been heavily involved with projects on Mourning Doves, White-winged Doves, Northern Bobwhite, Green Jays, and Clay-colored Thrush. I have enjoyed presenting this research at several regional, national, and international wildlife conferences. In Texas, I spent time as an adjunct faculty member at Tarleton State University teaching Wildlife Conservation and Management for non-majors. I have also taught lab sections of GIS and Wildlife Management Techniques.

Current Research: Within the STRIPs project, I’m investigating the impact of prairie strips on avian density and occupancy. I will be examining the impacts of landscape characteristics on avian communities with an emphasis on surrounding land cover of STRIPS sites. I am also the lead biodiversity researcher on the Pigs and Prairies project in northern Missouri. We will be evaluating the biodiversity impacts of prairie restoration for biogas production. 

Personal Interests: I attempt to fish and camp as much as possible. I enjoy sports immensely and play basketball, softball, and tennis whenever I get the chance. I began college as a sports journalism major and will watch about any sporting event on television especially Nebraska football (sorry ISU fans).



Working dissertation title: Impacts of prairie strips on nesting birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals.

Co-Advisor: Bob Klaver

Background: Like many of my colleagues, I grew up camping, hiking, and canoeing around Iowa and the United States, which led me to a career in wildlife.  While an undergraduate at Iowa State, I served as a Biological Science Technican for a summer at the Valentine NWR in the Nebraska Sandhills.  After graduating with a B.S. in Animal Ecology (wildlife focus) in 2010, I spent several field seasons working for the Iowa DNR on the Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring Program (MSIM) doing surveys for birds, herptiles, mammals, odonates, butterflies, bats, and mussels in central Iowa.  I then served as an Iowa DNR AmeriCorps member assisting with the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan as well as many other projects, before beginning my Master's program at Iowa State in the spring 2015.

Research Interests: My background with the MSIM program has led to an interest in a wide variety of taxa, but my research is currently focused on avian nesting density and nest success as well as herptile and small mammal presence and snake population dynamics.

Current Project: I am studying the impact prairie STRIPS have on wildlife, specifically comparing measures of avian nest success and herp/mammal presence in agricultural settings with prairie STRIPS to those without.  I am also validating some newer survey techniques including the use of a thermal imager to find early season nests in sparsely vegetated landscapes and to the use of thermal data loggers to record nest temperatures to allow a reduction in frequency of nest visits.

Personal Interests: I enjoy bird watching, nature photography, travel, camping, hiking, canoeing, and collecting butterflies, moths, and dragonflies.  I also advise a medieval sword fighting club on campus and travel around the Midwest to fighting events several times a year.

Education: B.S. in Animal Ecology (wildlife focus) from ISU, 2010.  Currently pursuing a Master's degree in Wildlife Ecology at Iowa State with expected graduation Fall 2016.

Picture of Matt holding a snake

Working thesis title: TBD; something about People in Ecosystems / Watershed Integration (PEWI).

Background: I holds a B.S. in Computer and Information Science and an M.S. degree in Information Technology from the University of Maryland University College. I have spent much of my life abroad, but return to northern Minnesota every summer for its beauty, clean water, and to speak German. 

Research Interests: How can our society design, test, and assist with the implementation of diverse, integrated agricultural systems? What conclusions has research settled on, and how can we communicate that to farmers through methods of empowerment and support rather than dictation? If holistic and agroecological research depends heavily on situational context, how can researchers include farmers in the scientific process to both establish stakeholder buy-in and access their contextual knowledge? These questions attracted me to Iowa State University, where I am currently a graduate research assistant working on the People in Ecosystems Watershed Integration (PEWI) project. PEWI's ability to facilitate both directed and independent learning has the potential to significantly weaken long-standing barriers to sustainable practice adoption, a possibly that provides both excitement and drive to my work.

Personal Interests: Beyond research and classrooms, I enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, going for walks in the woods, cooking, and playing volleyball and tennis.

Picture of Robert Valek

Advisors: Lisa Schulte-Moore and John Tyndall

Background: I received a B.S. in Natural Resources Management and Mathematics from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2018. At GVSU I became involved with the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP), where I found a community and learned more about the deep, often environmentally unfortunate history of agriculture in the U.S. and how I might be able to make positive change. It is with this knowledge and my academic background that I formed a desire to solve complex problems in agriculture and landscape ecology.

Research Interests: My research thus far has focused on landscape level changes. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into GVSU’s Arctic Ecology Program in 2016 with which I traveled to Alaska’s North Slope to collect climate change related vegetation data. This was my first experience conducting academic research and has lead me to other research projects where I could connect my mathematical background to ecology through statistical modeling. As I pursue an M.S. in Environmental Science and Forestry at Iowa State University I will be working on the STRIPS project and continuing to use mathematics in hopes of improving the ecological footprint of agricultural ecosystems.

Personal Interests: In my free time I enjoy rock climbing, yoga, hiking, reading, playing guitar, cooking, growing things, and spending time with the people and dogs that I love.

Background:  My academic and professional’s goals are to explore the dynamic relationship between natural resources and people, ensure the sustainability of natural resources in developed and developing countries, and channel my research to benefit the underprivileged population. I believe that emerging challenges associated with environmental change at multiple scales span disciplinary boundaries and necessitate interdisciplinary approaches to better our understanding of social-ecological dimensions. My academic research has trained me to integrate theories from social and natural sciences and use intensive fieldwork with complex modeling approaches to produce comprehensive research on socio-ecological sustainability.

Research Interests: Broadly, my research interests include human-dimensions of natural resources, social-ecological systems, ecosystem services, sustainability, application of GIS and remote sensing in natural resource management, land use and land cover change analysis, landscape ecology, coexistence, and conservation. At  Iowa State University, I will be working on the C-CHANGE project.

Personal Interests: When I am not analyzing data or writing manuscript, you will find me bird watching or walking around with a camera taking pictures of nature.

August 20, 2019 1:08 PM

When a farmer and/or farmland owner decides to install prairie strips on a field to reduce erosion and improve water quality, a few questions can arise. For instance: How should the prairie strips be designed, and where should they go? How much benefit I expect? Elise Miller is looking to provide answers.

April 5, 2018 2:36 PM

Brandon Silker with Yellow-bellied Racer in Jasper County, Iowa, 2016.In the 1850s Iowa’s land cover was composed of about 80% grassland. Due to the increase in agriculture, Iowa’s grasslands have declined to about 20% and Iowa’s land cover is now composed of about 63% corn and soybean fields. This habitat loss has contributed to the degradation and fragmentation of remaining Iowa grasslands that many animals rely on. The impact of this large scale habitat change has not been well studied for snakes, amphibians, and small mammals. We're seeking to fill this gap.

January 5, 2018 1:50 PM

Picture of the author aging an eggDuring the summer of 2017 I worked as a field technician on the STRIPS project. This position provided me with valuable experience that will help with the transition to a professional career as a wildlife biologist. Throughout the course of my employment with the STRIPS project I learned important skills related to field work, data collection and management, data entry techniques, and how to follow a scientific methodology related to a large scale wildlife study. In this blog post, I will discuss a basic overview of processes and protocols of field work, data collection, data management, data entry techniques, and what I learned throughout my summer employment. 

July 25, 2017 3:33 PM

Grassland birds, such as dickcissels, meadowlarks, and upland sandpipers, have declined by almost 40% over North America between the late 1960s and today 1968–2011. This decline is being driven by loss or degradation of grassland habitat continent-wide, including replacement of grassland with agricultural land, fragmentation of remaining grasslands, degradation of rangelands in the western US, and re-forestation in the eastern US. Stopping and eventually reversing the loss of grassland habitat will be necessary to halt the decline of North American grassland birds. To learn more about an innovative approach to restore grassland habitat to protect at least some species of grassland birds read on.

June 21, 2017 12:00 AM

Jacob Hill Maintaining Iowa’s highly productive agricultural landscape demands high inputs of fertilizer. When fertilizers run off the landscape in rain events or snow melt, negative consequences for water quality may arise due to enrichment by nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Developing strategies to sustain high levels of agricultural productivity while reducing nutrient runoff and its harmful consequences for water quality is a major concern of conservation science.

December 9, 2016 12:00 AM

Screenshot of PEWII’m a programmer on PEWI, a simple web-based learning tool designed to help people understand human-landscape interactions and ecosystem service tradeoffs (see figure below). One day, while working on PEWI’s code, I got pretty curious about whether there were other, similar tools out there. Also, being somewhat competitive by nature, I wondered what ‘the other groups’ were doing. I figured creating watershed tools is probably the vocation of a few, with groups working in this area just a small subset of the scientists and stakeholders interested in the impacts of human decisions on the environment. You can imagine my surprise when I set out to find a few oases in the software desert and, instead, found myself inundated with applications. The good news is that, among the flood of wonderful tools, PEWI still holds a unique place. Here are the results of my exploration.

June 15, 2016 12:00 AM

Learning has been a central part of my life for as long as a I can remember. As a youngster, I learned basic skills, like how to tie my shoes, the colors and alphabet, and how to share with my sister. As a student, I sat in countless classrooms with dozens of teachers and faculty members, learning theories, concepts, facts, and skills. I learned how I learn, and I began applying what I was learning to ask scientific research questions. As a graduate student, I continue to learn and grow as a research scientist, but I’m also experiencing learning in a new way: as an educator.

March 16, 2016 12:00 AM

Field Notes Cover Picture Each year, Iowa State University’s Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM) Department publishes a collection of articles designed to provide a slice of what has been happening in NREM over the past year. The graduate student publication, called Field Notes, highlights undergraduate and graduate research, catches up with recent graduates, and welcomes our new faculty. This past year, I wrote an article for Field Notes detailing part of my doctoral research. The article, titled “Learning how to have our cake and eat it, too: Identifying opportunities for co-production of commodities and ecosystem services in Iowa,” explores how tweaks can be made in agricultural land management to jointly expand economic and environmental opportunities for farmers to co-produce agricultural products and desired environmental benefits (e.g., enhanced water quality).

February 9, 2016 12:00 AM

Bioacoustics Any branch of science comes with its own unique challenges. For landscape ecologists such as us in the LESEM lab, one of these is the question of how to survey wildlife across broad spatial extents, especially with limited time, money, and personnel. Over the years, various technologies have been employed to aid researchers in maximizing results with minimal resources. For decades, animals as diverse as sage grouse, wolves, and manatees have been monitored via aerial surveys using small planes. Secretive species can be tracked using telemetry, and tiny geolocators have been used in countless studies to determine the paths of long-distance migrants. One area of research which has been steadily growing involves using sound recordings of animals to monitor their presence over widespread areas. With this type of monitoring, wildlife species that are inherently difficult to track and study become accessible to scientists.

August 5, 2015 12:00 AM

Old Couple Two months ago, I was fortunate to attend the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management (ISSRM) in Charleston, South Carolina. This year’s ISSRM, which serves as the annual conference for the International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR), was attended by over 450 scientists, government agency managers, non-profit employees, and private consultants from numerous fields, and served as an opportunity to engage with one another on research embedded in social science and natural science pertaining to the environment and natural resource issues. The conference theme this year, “Understanding and Adapting to Change,” provided a relevant lens to examine many pertinent human dimensions of natural resource challenges, including climate change, the food system, urban centers, etc.

July 29, 2015 12:00 AM

Did anyone else read Saki’s short story The Interlopers in high school English class? If not, you can google it; it’s quite short. Here’s a summary: two men, who have feuded their whole lives, are out hunting each other in a forest. Suddenly, a tree falls and traps them both. First, each angrily swears that his group of friends, who are elsewhere in the woods, will kill the other when they arrive. But gradually, as they wait, they decide to end their lifelong feud and become friends. This idea brings them great joy, and they talk of plans to publically declare their friendship. Then they see figures coming over the hill, and eagerly strain to see whose group of friends is coming to free them at last. But the approaching figures are not their friends. The story ends with one chilling word: wolves.

May 6, 2015 12:00 AM

509 at Field of DreamsFor those of you not lucky enough to be a graduate student in Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State, you should know that one of the major strengths of the program is the class SUSAG 509: Agroecosystems Analysis, or simply “509.”  After being admitted to the program last spring, I was thrilled to find out that I would get to spend a week in August driving around Iowa for credit: “You mean I get to meet Iowa farmers, talk cover crops, soil quality, and corn production?” Maybe that isn’t everybody’s idea of a dream vacation, but as a newcomer to the Midwest and long-standing ag nerd, I was definitely pumped. Since not everyone is lucky enough to be in my program or to have taken this class, I thought I’d share some of the major insights I gained. Spread over two posts, I’ll first discuss nutrient cycling and its role in agroecology, and then examine a couple of the sites on our field trip from the lens of ecological economics.

May 1, 2015 12:00 AM

Emily and Students Last summer, I was lucky to be involved in Iowa State University’s Office of Precollegiate Programs for Talented and Gifted (OPPTAG) Summer Exploration Program. The Exploration Program offers students entering grades 8-12 the opportunity to discover new and exciting areas of study not traditionally emphasized in school curriculums. During the week-long program, students are fully immersed in their chosen study, working from 8:30 am to 4 pm, with an additional hour of homework each night. Though there is certainly time for meeting new friends and fun evening activities, the students’ primary focus is academics.

November 7, 2014 12:00 AM

As a graduate school student, keeping up with relevant journal articles, books, and other publications requires not only scheduling time to read, but also attention to content management.  By content management, I mean tracking, storing, organizing, and referencing publications.  The importance of one’s content management process comes to the forefront during the writing process.  While manual citations may familiarize a writer with his or her chosen citation style, such as APA or MLA, other compelling factors have led me to implement a more automated citation process.  To name a few factors, these include switching citation styles, reusing the same citation in multiple papers with different citation styles, in-text citation dependencies on other citations within the same paper (for example, multiple papers by the same author or by two authors with the same last name), and most importantly, saving time.  The dynamic nature of references and in-text citations throughout the writing process can lead to time staking revisions in a manual process.  The intricately detailed rules also make it easy to make a citation mistake.  Let’s fix that.

September 26, 2014 12:00 AM

Carrie Meeting Notes As a graduate student researcher, I have a million things on my mind. Putting this in the context of Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slowgrad school and all of its meetings can contribute to cognitive strain, leaving some of my day-to-day conversations, decisions, and action items to disappear just beyond reach. Taking effective meeting notes is one of my favorite strategies for combatting forgetfulness. Plus great notes have the added bonus of providing other attendees a concise summary of the agenda, topics, discussion, and outcomes. Here are a few of my tips.

August 29, 2014 12:00 AM

It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I am exhausted, and I have a headache that I can’t seem to shake. It started slowly creeping along my forehead around noon, trying to elude my usual my mid-morning coffee. But today, like the last six days, it had nothing to fear, nothing to slink away from. I haven’t had coffee or caffeine in seven days because I can’t afford it.

July 29, 2014 12:00 AM

Rent and Grocery balanceLast year, the state of Iowa harvested 13,100,000 acres of corn and 9,240,000 acres of soybeans. Yet, this article recently published in National Geographic Magazine, reports that 1 in 8 Iowans are going hungry. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, in Story County where Iowa State University is located, the number jumps even higher to 1 in 6. Here, nestled within the dark, rich soil of vast agricultural success thousands don’t know where their next meal will come from. This seems slightly counterintuitive, especially if you’re not familiar with the agricultural production system in the U.S. Cornbelt region. For many, it seems strange that in one of the most agriculturally productive states in the country, we aren’t able to meet the food needs of the population. But there’s more to this story. 

June 23, 2014 12:00 AM

Marathon pic 1I am a runner. I have run 5Ks and marathons. I have run on icy winter afternoons and I have run on humid summer mornings. I have run through grief and pain, through joy and triumph, and through calming stillness. Running has been a consistent part of my life for as long as I can remember, and though my commitment to running sometimes wans and falters, I always come back to that rhythmic and welcoming sound of my feet hitting the pavement. You see, running is a methodical progression for me, a path forward. Sometimes this path forward is marred with obstacles, and just lacing up my shoes is a feat that initially feels insurmountable. Days like these the miles drag like weights, and the progress, the path forward, is difficult to see; the progression feels like it has all but stopped. But, even in those darkest of days, when I feel like hanging up my running shoes and bowing my head in defeat, I always return to the way I feel when I’m running – the way I am methodically and systematically progressing, moving forward toward a goal, no matter how small or how large.

June 9, 2014 12:00 AM

gardening On April 1, 2014, I attended a speech by Ray Archuleta—NRCS soil heath guru—at Iowa State University, titled Soil Health and Sustainability.  Ray promotes conservation on agriculture land and encourages ideas such as no-till farming and cover crops. He has held a number of conservation positions throughout his career in the Natural Resources field and is currently traveling the country to present his Soil Health and Sustainability lecture to students, farmers, natural resource professionals, and many other conservation enthusiasts or critics.

May 23, 2014 12:00 AM

Journal I took a trip this last weekend up to Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota with two of my girlfriends. The winter in Iowa was long and cold, and the pressures of completing my thesis this last spring had forced me to spend most my days deep in the depths of my cinder-walled basement office. Almost all I experienced these last six months were the bone-chilling darkness of the morning and night when I came and left my office, and the flickering of fluorescent above my desk. I was craving the woods. As I left my house, I quickly grabbed one of many journals sitting on my bookshelf.

April 29, 2014 12:00 AM

Canis Lupus laying in grassGazing into the fiery green eyes of a wolf, Aldo Leopold felt the power that he and all humans have to alter our ecosystem. He felt the fragility of the earth beneath his feet. Though technological innovations have increased many societies’ abilities to produce food, increase efficiency, and exchange knowledge, it has also given power to the hand that once turned over the soil on its own. Our interactions with the environment—direct and indirect—wield far more power now than Leopold’s musket did in 1909. With such agency comes a responsibility to protect and nurture the lands that bear our livelihoods.

April 9, 2014 12:00 AM

bike photoExacting the large-scale, meaningful behavioral changes required to reduce humanity’s effect on climate change has eluded scientists for the past two decades.   However, increasingly, tools and frameworks are being developed to help scientists recognize the importance of and methodologies for helping the public understand the realities of climate change, and the need for behavioral changes to combat it.   One such framework is explored in the popular book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.  The framework outlined in the book emphasizes the duality of human psychology, specifically the human desire to be rational and the human propensity to be emotional, and provides insight into harnessing this duality to move forward on a clear, action-oriented path.   Creating change, the Heath brothers write, can be boiled down to three critical pieces: (1) directing the rider, (2) motivating the elephant, and (3) shaping the path forward.   Let’s explore this framework further by returning to the topic of climate change.

February 12, 2014 12:00 AM

Simple life 1 - cabin After parking our car where the Forest Service road is no longer plowed, I step outside to be greeted by the howling of a nearby wolf pack. We load up our gear, put on our skis, and glide into the woods under the illumination of the Milky Way. An hour later the moon is peaking over the pines, outshining the stars and pouring light into the Northwoods, which I have grown to love. Approaching the glowing cabin window in the distance I am greeted by my friend Thistle, a massive polar husky retired sled dog. I open the cabin door, wipe the fog off my glasses, and warm up next to the wood burning stove. It’s good to be back.

January 20, 2014 12:00 AM

Family of four "What's the action of greatest impact?"

This is the question I have taped to the top of my computer screen. As a scientist, educator, and mom concerned with the fate of our planet, it’s something I contemplate on a daily basis. I recently had the opportunity to plumb the depths of my mind regarding this question while on a 500 mile solo road trip through arguably one of the planet’s most altered regions: the U.S. Corn Belt. One of the answers I came up with was to teach my children well, especially regarding the laws of nature and human interactions with them. I try to do so through our everyday activities—some spontaneous, and some planned—in the great outdoors of our local community.

January 13, 2014 12:00 AM

Message box climate change How many times a day does someone ask you if you’re certain: are you certain you want to cancel your reservation? Stay home rather than going out with friends? Bring your laptop with you?  Or how many times a day do you internally second guess yourself: do really want to order another beer? Should I have turned left back there? Will I or won’t I need my umbrella? Uncertainty and incomplete information are hallmark characteristics of our daily lives. Though the questions above are seemingly trivial, take a moment and consider how many times you have needed think about a choice.



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