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Who We Are


We believe deeply that the culture of the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program is as important as the work we do.  We work hard to create a positive work environment that fosters communication, engagement, and learning. For example, on larger projects we hold weekly dinner meetings where everyone can come together and talk about the week behind and the one ahead.  These meetings have been instrumental in the evolution of our program.  In a busy field-season, there often isn’t the time to stop and reflect on the work, to listen and appreciate the comments and observations of your colleagues, or to suggest ways of improving efficiency to all of your peers.  We value these meetings specifically for these reasons, and because of how they have developed a sense of community. In addition to our in-season efforts, we work closely with our former biologists to aid them in their development beyond their involvement in our Program. We take great pride in the successes of our colleagues and friends. Here are our permanant staff and a sampling of the many remarkable alumnae of our shorebird demography studies:


Jim Fraser – fraser@vt.edu
Jim joined the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in 1981 as an assistant professor. He currently is a professor of Wildlife Conservation. He founded the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in 1985 with a study of piping plovers on Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia, and continues to be driven by an enthusiasm for conservation-oriented research.

Dan Catlin – dcatlin@vt.edu
Dan is a Research Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech where he received his Ph.D. for his work with piping plovers on the Missouri River. He has been with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program since 2004, managing and collaborating on various efforts, including the Missouri River piping plover and least tern project, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response, the sea-level rise project, and the Long Island project.

Sarah Karpanty – karpanty@vt.edu

Sarah joined the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and the world of shorebird conservation, in 2004 after earning her B.S. at Miami University and her Ph.D. At Stony Brook University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the department and mentors undergraduate and graduate students on a diversity of shorebird and tern projects on our U.S. coasts. Sarah is interested in projects that explore how human activities impact animal behavior, population dynamics, and community ecology. Most importantly, she seeks to use the knowledge gained from those studies to proactively develop and/or evaluate management actions to mitigate or minimize human impacts on wildlife. Sarah and her students have worked and continue to work on Red Knots, Wilson’s Plovers, Piping Plovers, Least Terns, Common Terns, Roseate Terns, Gull-Billed Terns, and Black Skimmers. When not working on the beach, Sarah explores similar questions with lemurs an their predators in Madagascar.

 

Shannon Ritter – sjritter@vt.edu

Shannon started with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in 2011 as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. She holds a M.Sc. in Geology from the University of North Carolina. Her background in sedimentary environments, paleontology, biology, and environmental geology means that she has been training all her life to be a shorebird biologist without realizing it. She has assisted the team with all aspects of project management, as well as contributing to computer-mapping of habitat and demographics for piping plovers, red knots, and other shorebirds.

Donald Fraser – drfraser@vt.edu

Don joined the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in 2005 as a technician and boat operator. In 2010, he was promoted to Watercraft Operations Manager. He holds a B.S. in biology from Virginia Tech, and a U.S. Coast Guard license of master of steam and motor vessels of not more than 50 gross tons on inland waters, and mate of steam and motor vessels of not more than 50 gross tons on near coastal waters.

Sara Zeigler - szeigler23@gmail.com
Sara is a U.S. Geological Survey Mendenhall Fellow and works collaboratively with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program. Sara joined the program after earning a M.Sc. in Conservation Biology and a Ph.D. in Geographical Sciences from the University of Maryland. She also recently finished a post doc with Dr. Jeffery Walters in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech and remains an active member of the IUCN’s Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. Sara works with various collaborators at the USGS, Virginia Tech, and the USFWS to study predicted levels of sea level rise (SLR) along the Atlantic Coast of the United States and the implications of that SLR for piping plovers and other shorebird species.

Dan Gibson - gibsond@vt.edu
Dan has recently joined the Virginia Tech shorebird program as a post-doctoral fellow. He received his Ph.D. from University of Nevada, Reno where his dissertation focused on assessing how greater sage-grouse behaviorally and demographically respond to environmental change, such as anthropogenic perturbations and weather variability. Dan’s research interests include understanding what factors influence spatiotemporal patterns in demography, life history, and behavior observed in populations and communities, as well as investigating the biases associated with study design or statistical models used to assess these relationships. Dan plans on assisting the multiple on-going Piping plover research projects by incorporating new quantitative approaches to help address questions related to population processes in degraded environments.

 

Eunbi Kwon – ebkwon@ksu.edu
Eunbi is joining the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in January, 2016. Eunbi received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology education, from Konju National University (Korea). She received a Master of Science degree in behavioral ecology from Ewha Woman’s University. She received a Ph.D. degree in Ecology from Kansas State University. Her first effort in the VT shorebird program will be to review decades of historical data from Cape Hatteras National Seashore to look for trends and to evaluate the Seashore’s data collection protocols. Eunbi’s research interests include evaluation of the effects of environmental changes on the spatial and temporal distribution of consumers at an ecosystem level.

Kelsi Hunt – hunt0382@vt.edu
Kelsi received her undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota where she worked as a research technician on the Great Lakes piping plover project. She joined the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program as a part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in 2010 and has continued with the program on the Missouri River since then. She recieved her M.Sc. studying the effects of flooding on piping plover prey, growth rates, and demography and manages all operations on the Missouri River.

Meryl Friedrich – meryl2@vt.edu
Meryl is a Research Specialist with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program. She earned a B.A. from Denison University, double majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies. Since 2011, her work on the Missouri River piping plover and least tern project has included analyzing the mate and site fidelity of Piping Plovers on the Missouri River, managing the database, and corresponding with people who resight color banded plovers on the wintering grounds.

Erin Heller – elheller@vt.edu

Erin is a Ph.D. student working with the federally threatened rufa red knot on Virginia’s barrier islands, researching how global climate change is affecting red knot populations through alterations in ocean temperature/currents, island geomorphology, and prey distribution. She received her B.Sc. in Wildlife Science from Virginia Tech in 2011 and her M.Sc. from Old Dominion University in 2015, looking at how urbanization effects tick parasitism rates on birds in coastal southeastern Virginia. Missing the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, she returned to Virginia Tech for her Ph.D. research.

Chelsea Weithman – cweithm@vt.edu

Chelsea received her B.Sc degree from Clemson University in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, where she discovered her passion for avian ecology. She joined the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in the 2013 and 2014 breeding seasons on the Missouri River piping plover and least tern project. She is thrilled to continue to work with the VTSP on breeding piping plover demography that is influenced by habitat and human interactions on the barrier islands of North Carolina.

Samantha Robinson – samgr@vt.edu

Sam is a Ph.D. student working on the Long Island project, relating Piping Plover demography to habitat alterations from Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent anthropogenic impacts. She received her M.Sc. in 2015 from Kansas State University studying lesser prairie-chicken survival and space use in relation to habitat and anthropogenic features. She started with the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program in 2012 as a technician on the Missouri River piping plover project and is very excited to return to Virginia Tech for her Ph.D. research.

Henrietta Bellman – henb9@vt.edu

Having found her way to the States from across the pond, Hen started work with Virginia Tech in 2014 when she was employed as a seasonal field technician on the Missouri River Piping Plover and Least Tern Project. In 2015 she returned to work as a Crew Leader on Fire Island studying the demography of the Piping Plover post Hurricane Sandy. She is excited to be starting her Masters in the Spring of 2016 with the Shorebird Program investigating the habitat requirements and restrictions on Fire Island for the Piping Plover.

Katie Walker – kmwalker@vt.edu

Katie received her B.Sc in Wildlife Biology from the University of Vermont. In 2014, she joined the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program studying piping plovers and least terns on the Missouri River in South Dakota. She continued her work with the VTSP during the summers of 2015 and 2016 on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, studying piping plover demography and movement. After two winters working with Fire Island data, she is excited to be starting her Masters research with the Fire Island crew in the fall of 2017 researching piping plover habitat selection and distribution following Hurricane Sandy.