Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Written Word

A thesis project is a large and daunting project. At times it can become overwhelming, although I do have a slight edge in this area with my past experience as a project and program manager of multi-year projects.

As many of you know, I am working on my master's thesis in Raptor Biology focused on the breeding ecology of the Northern Goshawk. I have completed the two field seasons successfully and am now focused on writing the thesis and submitting my chapters for publication. With a few additional side projects underway, you may have noticed that my blog posts have not been quite a regular as they used to be.

People take different approaches in the development of a thesis. Some will write a complete unified thesis and worry about submitting papers for publication at a later date. I was encouraged by my thesis committee to focus on the papers first, then simply include them as separate chapters of the thesis. The general idea is if you can get your chapters accepted for publication by a peer reviewed journal, the university shouldn't have anything else to say. I chose the later route.

Northern Goshawk, Sawtooth National Forest, 2012.

My thesis consists of three chapters. Originally I had only planned two chapters, but a recent GIS project that I worked on seemed appropriate for publication so my committee and I decided to include it.

Chapter 1: Indirect Effects of Prey Abundance on Breeding Season Diet of Northern Goshawks within a Unique Prey Landscape. This chapter summarized my quantification of the diet of the goshawk using nest cameras. I have submitted it for publication to the Journal of Raptor Research. They have had it in their hands for nine weeks now, so I hope to hear back any day. With the holidays it will probably end up being mid-January.
Chapter 2: Predicting Nestling Habitat of Northern Goshawks in Mixed Aspen-Lodgepole Pine Forests in a High-Elevation Shrub-Steppe Dominated Landscape. This paper is largely based on Geographical Information System (GIS) analysis, using model selection to prioritize areas for nest searching. In additional to a master degree, I am also completing a Graduate Certificate in Geographical Information Analysis and this chapter meets my final deliverable for that program. While I did not use this full method in the field, I was able to find five additional nesting territories using GIS analysis. I have submitted this chapter to the Open Journal of Ecology. They have only had it for one week, so I don't expect to hear back from them soon.
Chapter 3: Effects of Prey Abundance and Forest Structure on Occupancy and Productivity of Northern Goshawks Within a Unique Forest Landscape of the Western United States. This chapter addresses the core question of my thesis. Unfortunately, my results didn't come out strong. I and my committee still believe it is worth publishing, but we have not yet decided on where to submit it. I am targeting submission of this chapter to a journal by the end of January.

The first side project I have in the works is a study of blood parasites among the nesting goshawks I studied for my thesis. This project is being led by a friend of mine, Michelle, but I am helping her count parasites, analyze the data, and complete the manuscript for publication. We hope to submit the manuscript to the Journal of Raptor Research some time in the spring. The project began when I was told that the goshawks in the south hills had a low survival rate, most likely the result of a blood parasite. I recruited Michelle to lead the project. We have since collected a fair amount of data that indicates that the infection rate is very high, but the survival rate appears to be strong. It is an exciting project and will be a great accomplishment for Michelle, myself, and our other co-authors.

The biggest project challenge going forward is an analysis and manuscript I am leading focused on the the effects of climate change on the migratory timing of songbirds and raptors through southern Idaho. One of my co-authors presented this work at the North American Ornithological Conference in August as part of a special symposium on climate change. As a result of that conference, we were invited to submit a chapter for a special edition of Studies in Avian Biology. Manuscripts are due in June and the edition is supposed to go to press at the end of 2013. We are revising the analysis and updating our manuscript.

There is a lot more to research than the field work and documentation. I am now in the "speaking tour" phase of the project. Last year I presented preliminary results at the Raptor Research Conference and in October I traveled to Portland to present at the national Wildlife Society conference. Upcoming events include presentations at the Great Basin Consortium in Boise in January, my thesis defense February 22, and the Idaho Chapter of the Wildlife Society conference in March ( Coeur d'Alene). I will also present the climate work at that conference. There are public outreach presentations as well. I have already presented at the Peregrine Fund and the Prairie Falcon Audubon Society (Twin Falls). In February I present at the Southwestern Idaho Birders Association in Nampa (Feb 14) and the Golden Eagle Audubon in Boise (Feb 26). All of these outreach events are open to the public. Let me know if you need information.

If my fingers survive the typing and my voice survives the presentations, I guess I will try to figure out what to do when I grow up. I quit my previous job in January of 2009, to pursue this goal of working on field research. By all accounts it has been tremendously successful. I would like to continue spending time in the field and delivering science that helps advance our knowledge and conserve the species that occupy our world. I'll keep you posted...