Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program

During the summer of 2017 I participated in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program with Eastern Kentucky University. I designed and implemented a project focusing on avian assemblages within an old-growth forest. Old-growth forests of the eastern United States are rare and often small, but their lack of disturbance relative to other forests makes them excellent reference sites for studies examining the impacts of anthropogenic influence. Distance modeling is a cost-effective, accessible method of estimating species density of birds based on point counts. I collected data from 34 sites at Lilley Cornett Woods, a mixed mesophytic forest with over 200 acres of old growth, including Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) in southeastern Kentucky. I examined the influence of environmental and disturbance characteristics on the modeled densities of the 7 most common avian species at the sites. Responses were heterogeneous but species-specific, including preference for habitats with or without Eastern Hemlock. Both Blue-headed (Vireo solitarius) and Red-eyed Vireos (Vireo olivaceus) were found in higher densities in areas disturbed by roads or trails, whereas Hooded Warblers (Setophaga citrina) and Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor) tended away from those disturbances. Black-throated Green Warblers (Setophaga virens), Hooded Warblers, and Acadian Flycatchers (Empidonax virescens) preferred areas without Eastern Hemlock, but both species of Vireos tended towards increased hemlock density. The varied responses speak to the importance of forest heterogeneity and complexity, but also suggest that even minor disturbances occurring in areas receiving the highest levels of protection can impact densities of birds and thus affect bird community composition.