2022 Grant Program Recipients

Connor Hughes, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech

Project: Measuring habitat availability and connectivity for the Bog Turtle using hypervolume modeling and microclimatic data

The bog turtle, the United States smallest and rarest turtle, is native to the bogs and fens once common across southern Appalachia. However, presently robust bog turtle populations only exist in a few isolated wetlands across the southeast and have experienced drastic population decline associated with habitat alteration and heavy poaching pressure. Our project plans to use remote sensing technology and other contemporary spatial modeling techniques to generate habitat suitability models for bog turtles across the state of Virginia. We will also assess how that habitat has changed in recent history and will change under climate warming scenarios. These models will identify priority habitat for the species and inform searches for new populations of bog turtles located in previously inaccessible areas, allowing collaborations with landowners to help manage these vital few remaining populations.

Read Connor’s grant report here.

Jenna Noel Palmisano, Department of Biology, University of Central Florida

Project: Threat characterization of an invasive Lung Parasite, Raillietiella orientalis, and a longstanding fungal pathogen, Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, to Pygmy Rattlesnake populations of Florida

The invasive pathogens Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola (Oo) and Raillietiella orientalis (Ro) infect many native snake species in Florida and can produce lethal outcomes in pygmy rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius), a species in undocumented decline. There is little research on the prevalence and severity of Ro and Oo in pygmy rattlesnake populations and lack of fine scale data on the genetic and population structure of S. miliarius populations statewide. I will evaluate pathogen dynamics and gather DNA samples to analyze the genetic structure and adaptive immunity of multiple pygmy rattlesnake populations to help characterize the threats of these pathogens to pygmy rattlesnakes. I will conduct intensive mark-recapture studies at two of these pygmy rattlesnake populations with known prevalence to evaluate the demographic impacts of Oo and Ro infections.

Read Jenna’s grant report here.

Krista Ruppert, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture, Mississippi State

Project: Assessment of the genetic diversity and relatedness of Gopher Frogs (Rana capito) on the Conecuh National Forest

Gopher frogs are pond-breeding amphibians native to longleaf pine forests in the southeastern United States, where they are state-protected across most of their range. In Alabama, gopher frogs are known to consistently breed only in two ponds, both located on the Conecuh National Forest. These small populations may be susceptible to loss of genetic diversity due to their geographic isolation as well as species life history traits such as breeding site fidelity and variable reproductive success across years. My goal through this project is to assess the genetic diversity of gopher frogs in the Conecuh National Forest via microsatellite genotyping, where metrics of genetic diversity, relatedness, and inbreeding will be determined and compared to populations in Florida and North Carolina. Through this, the need for further, more intensive management strategies to enhance genetic structure of this species within Alabama can be identified.

Read Krista’s project report here.

Rosemary Ronca, Department of Biology, Appalachian State University

Project: Quantifying anthropogenic threats and ecological parameters of a southern Appalachian endemic, Weller’s Salamander (Plethodon welleri)

The southern Appalachian Mountains are home to a diverse community of salamander species, including many endemic and endangered species such as the Weller’s Salamander. Though this species is considered threatened and of greatest conservation need across its range in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, Weller’s salamanders receive no federal protection due to a lack of information regarding their population ecology. This study aims to better understand the distribution and abundance of this species by investigating the environmental parameters that influence populations of Weller’s Salamander. The results from this study will build a foundation of knowledge to help us better understand the requirements of this species and aid in the development of future conservation management plans to better protect this endemic salamander.

Read Rosemary’s project report here.