Conservation science


Landscape ecology and conservation design are practical means to both understand diversity at multiple scales, and how to build sustainable systems for humans and wildlife

Biodiversity as essential ingredient of human condition

Most wildlife is loved and treasured by people who interact with it. One of the great challenges of our time is figuring out how to keep the wild near where people live and work, and that can include very large patches of habitat near rural landscapes, as well as smaller, more interconnected areas near urban landscapes. At every scale, there is some kind of habitat that can be improved to promote the persistence of wildlife. And, recent psychological research is uncovering how essential it is for human well being to have natural systems nearby.


Most of my work has been focused on the eastern portion of North America, with significant projects ranging from the Gaspe of Quebec, to the southern Appalachians and SE Atlantic Coastal Plain. I have traveled and taught in the American West, and throughout the Bahamas and Canada.

Recent studies suggest areas with high clustering of breeding sites combined with low landscape resistance will provide the best long-term habitat for pool-breeding amphibians. Future development pressure shifts priorities, to areas with current low density housing and large remaining, privately owned forest blocks.

Much of exurban Eastern North America has reforested, allowing wildlife populations to rebound. At the same time, exurban areas are overtaking this newly restored habitat, and development pressure threatens to permanently fragment wildlife populations.

Amphibians and reptiles are particularly vulnerable, as are the largely unprotected, geomorphically isolated wetlands and ponds they depend upon.

Advances in habitat connectivity modeling using Clemson Supercomputer - Dr. Paul Leonard. Paul developed new approaches to using circuit theory to model habitat connectivity based on resistance, enabled by his use of the Palmetto Cluster.

SE Habitat Connectivity Model produced by Dr. Paul Leonard using Clemson Supercomputer

Current Projects

Geographic conservation planning at the region scale (multi state, multi county, ecoregional)
Persistence of wetland fauna in urbanizing and managed forest landscapes
Land use history and amphibian habitat, particularly wetland distributions and functions
Amphibian and reptile diversity in managed pine forestsĀ 
Reducing simplifying assumptions by overcoming computing limits
Conservation functions of conservation easements
Detecting spatial signatures of climate refugia


Field study (radiotelemetry, habitat assessment), spatial analysis, conservation design process, putting together great teams

Graduate students, past and present

Cora Allard - Frog behavior at southern range margin (Director of Creative Inquiry, Clemson University)
Sam Chambers - Spatial characteristics of landowner attitudes to aquatic conservation (now research faculty at U. of AZ)
Nakisha Fouch - doctoral study on NSF DCNHS study of ecological functions of conservation easements
Michael Gouin -
spatial distribution and conservation function of historic rice fields in South Carolina
Amanda Hackney - Nest site selection and predation of Diamondback terrapin on barrier islandĀ  (now with Texas Audubon Society)
Joanna Hawley Howard - Community ecology in anthropogenic wetlands (now post doc)
Bethany Johnson - Habitat correlates of amphibian community compositions in managed forests (now with Collins Pine Co)
Shawn Kelly - Vegetation dynamics in response to natural vs. managed disturbance
Cathy Marion - Community assembly in altered ecosystems (now with USFWS)
Paul Leonard - Supercomputing, large datasets, and inference in conservation planning (now post doc)
Chris O'Bryan - Behavioral adaptations of a pond turtle to reconfigured landscapes (now in doctoral program University Queensland)
Jeremy Pike - Watershed management (staff at Clemson University)
Adam Rose - Comparison of habitat connectivity software (now with Florida DEP)
Ben Stegenga - Connectivity in aquatic landscapes, frog movements (now with BLM Desert Tortoise)
Thilina Surasinghe - Occupancy of historically impacted habitats by stream salamanders (Now at Bridgewater State)
Alec Nelson, Deriving topographic signatures for climate refugia in Appalachians

Post-doctoral scholars

Dr. Amber Pitt - wetland ecology; wetland policy (now at Bloomsburg University)
Dr. Jeff Mohr - ecology and translocation of upland snakes (now at Macon State University)
Dr. Trishna Dutta - conservation planning data assessment in the Appalachians (now with Columbia University)
Dr. Joanna Hawley-Howard - landscape heterogeneity and fire in Southern Appalachians
Dr. Paul Leonard - multi-scale conservation design in Southern and Central Appalachia
Dr. Autumn-Lynn Harrison - spatial ecology and conservation communications (now at Smithsonian)

Radio-tracking wood frogs
Rana sylvatica in late November in southern Maine. To the best of my knowledge this was the first time since naturalist John Burrows (1914), that anyone had tracked a female to hibernaculum, and learned that they overwinter in the upper O horizon, just below rotting leaves, near vernal pools.