Matt Stephenson

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
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.

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.

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