Dale E. Gawlik Professor and Director
Environmental Science Program
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida Atlantic University 777 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431-0991
561-297-3333 (phone)
561-297-2749 (fax)

Curriculum vitae


The Environmental Science Program is an inter-disciplinary program designed to provide students with specialized training in Environmental Sciences. All the departments in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science participate in the program, as do several other colleges at FAU.

Research Interests

My broad research interests are in avian ecology, wetland ecosystems, and restoration ecology.  The main research questions being addressed in my lab focus on (1) mechanisms by which fluctuating wetlands produce food for wading birds, (2) behavioral and physiological responses of wading birds to prey limitations, and (3) predictive habitat models that are linked to water management regimes.  In recent years I have added questions about (4) invasive species in wetlands, (5) the use of created wetlands by aquatic birds, and (6) the drivers of wading bird populations in estuarine ecosystems.  An increasingly common thread emerging among all these questions is the response of wetland birds to human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC; sensu Sih et al. 2011).     
Another characteristic of our research is that it often bears directly on the restoration or management of the Everglades ecosystem.  In my view, the ultimate broad impact of our research is to have it used by managers and policy makers.  A decade of conducting research and conveying it to managers has shown me how much conservation can be enhanced when scientific knowledge is packaged into tools that translate easily to management outcomes. 
The approaches my students and I use to address our research questions range from large-scale predictive models using data from long-term monitoring programs for Everglades restoration to very focused in situ experiments.  Because our research is organized around some fairly narrow themes it often integrates the work of multiple lab members.  We place a high value on working as a team and doing synergistic work, which serves students well when they leave the lab. 

Teaching interests

My teaching interests lie in the domains of ecology, conservation, and restoration ecology.  I have developed graduate courses Conservation Biology and Emerging Topics in Avian Ecology and I teach an undergraduate course in Ecology.  My lectures are generously sprinkled with personal experiences from a wide range of research projects, which serve as case studies or as a way to liven up technical material.  I draw from observed successes and failures of innovative simulation models, field experiments, ecological monitoring, and socioeconomic policies.  Placing these examples within the frame of ecological concepts helps students understand the subject matter and reinforces how their own research might benefit the scientific community or society in general. 

PhD Student:Michelle L. Petersen

Michelle Peterson Profile Image

I received a my B.S. in Environmental Science and Geography at Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2006.  While pursuing my Bachelor's degree, I was a GIS wildlife intern at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Madelia, MN.  I performed all GIS related tasks for the Deer Project Leader and surveyed vegetation in Itasca State Park to assess the impacts of white-tailed deer on forest undergrowth regeneration.

In October 2006, I began working on my M.S. at North Dakota State University.  My thesis research focused on land use and climate effects on Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Common Grackles.  Large-scale, long-term data sets were used to compare two Breeding Bird Survey response-scale approaches for modeling breeding blackbird abundance in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota. I received my M.S. in Environmental and Conservation Science in May 2009. 

I joined the Avian Ecology Lab at Florida Atlantic University in March 2009.  My research will be focusing on  elucidating the relationships between Wood Stork, White Ibis and Great Egret foraging habitat preferences and their reproductive success which maybe essential to the recovery of threatened wading bird populations in the Florida Everglades.

MS Student:Emilie Kohler

I received my B.S in Biology at Shippensburg University, Shippensburg PA in 2009. My undergraduate researchinvestigated hybridization between a native and non-native crayfish species. After graduating, I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA in Montana, teaching K-12 watershed science field trips. Since then I’ve worked as a biological science technician for a variety of projects. Most recently, I worked on a long-term Northern Spotted Owls monitoring program in Olympic National Park. My experience and interest in restoration ecology led me to Dr. Gawlik’s Avian Ecology Lab where I am a first year Master’s student. My research focus is creating a habitat suitability model for the Little Blue Heron in the Florida Bay and the Keys. The model will include water depth, prey selection and availability.

MS Student: Camille Herteux

I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2015 with a BS in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior. During my undergraduate I was involved in animal communication field work with tree frogs, and I also worked on a community ecology project examining aggressive behavior in Plethodontid salamanders. My main research interest is wetland ecology. I joined FAU’s Environmental Science Master’s program in fall 2015 to work on a project with Dr. Gawlik involving habitat choice in wading birds. I will be performing field work and collecting data at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in southwest Georgia. For this project, I plan to study the relative importance of factors affecting habitat choice of wading birds in small, geographically isolated depressional wetlands. I will examine factors at both landscape and wetland-specific scales, including hydrology, wetland density and connectivity, and prey availability. I also plan to compare avian habitat use between natural, undisturbed wetlands and agriculturally altered wetlands that have been ditched and cleared of vegetation.

MS Student:Jenna May

I received my B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida in 2011.  During my undergraduate studies, I volunteered in a variety of labs with research spanning from ant mutualism to avian behavior. My first fieldwork opportunity allowed me to gain experience in bird banding and identification, thus establishing my interest in avian ecology.   After graduating, I worked as a field technician on several projects throughout the US, many involving avian research.
My developing interests in wetland systems and birds led me to the Gawlik lab where I worked as a field technician on the Fauna Concentration Project. The re-exposure to the academic world encouraged me to leave behind the bio-gypsy lifestyle and pursue my Master’s Degree. I am currently conducting my research at Lake Okeechobee where I am studying the reproductive success of wading birds. My research will include a comparison of nesting success at spoil island colonies and natural tree island colonies, and a diet analysis comparing birds nesting at Lake Okeechobee and in the Everglades.

MS Student: Ashley Jackson

After receiving a B.S. in wildlife biology from Colorado State University, I worked as a research coordinator, crew leader, and avian field technician, on several projects in Wyoming, Montana and Alaska. My interests in the anthropogenic impacts on wildlife were shaped by my previous research which focused on the impacts of private and public land use and development on wildlife. As a graduate student at Florida Atlantic University, I am currently studying wading birds in the Everglades; my current research is focused on small heron prey selection and nesting success.

PhD Student:Marisa Martinez

I grew up in New Jersey and received a dual B.S. degree in Animal Sciences and Natural Resources at Cornell University in 2011. I discovered my interest in birds while working as an undergraduate research assistant in the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology examining the singing behaviors of wrens. After graduation, I interned with the USFWS at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida where I became fascinated with the Everglades. Having solidified my ambition to pursue avian ecology as a career, I took a field technician position working with endangered songbirds, which turned into a Master’s position at Texas A&M University. My thesis work focused on post-fledging habitat use of Black-capped Vireos and I received my M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences in 2014. Very fortunately, I was able to return to Florida to join the Gawlik lab in 2014 as a Ph.D. student on a project developing a habitat model for Little Blue Herons. I will be researching natural and anthropogenic pressures on Little Blue Heron foraging and nesting habitats in Florida Bay and the Keys.

PhD Student:David Essian

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. I was a general biology major until I participated in a Field Ornithology course in the summer of 2010. After that, I decided to pursue a career in ecology. The following summer, I was employed by the Minnesota DNR in Bemidji, MN as a waterfowl banding technician. In 2012, I began my M.S. at Northern Michigan University studying the diets of waterbirds on Lake Michigan during years with type E avian botulism outbreaks. I finished my Master’s thesis in 2015. In 2015, I joined the Gawlik lab as a Ph.D. student. I will be monitoring wading bird nesting colonies on Lake Okeechobee. The broad goal of my dissertation is to determine drivers of wading bird populations in a wetland where lake stage is highly managed. I will model nest survival of wading birds on Lake Okeechobee as a function of hydrology, climate, and prey dynamics. I will also examine differences in the diets and foraging behavior of wading birds within and among nesting seasons in order to better understand how hydrological variation in wetlands influences trophic relationships among species.

MS Student:Tom Faughnan

Originally from Vermont, I received a B.S. in Natural Resources with a concentration in Ecology and a minor in Forestry from the University of Vermont. I have since worked seasonally with a variety of organizations including the Catalina Island Conservancy, National Park Service, Massachusetts Audubon Society, and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Through this work, I have gained experiences in a variety of ecosystems across the US and in Panama in applied conservation and research focusing on shore birds, sea turtles, bats, and invasive species. My primary research interests are in ecosystem restoration and threatened species conservation. I am currently conducting my Master’s research examining the relationship between hydrology and wading bird prey density during the dry season in the Everglades. This research will further the goals of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) allowing for more informed management decisions in the region.

PhD Student:Betsy Evans

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Luther College (Decorah, Iowa) in 2008. As an undergraduate, I was given the opportunity to conduct a research project focusing on perch selection of communally-roosting Turkey Vultures. After working with vultures, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in ornithology. It was my interest in vulture biology that led me to Florida Gulf Coast University, where my research focused on the dynamics and problems associated with urban vulture roosts. I graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with my M.S. in Environmental Sciences in December 2013. I joined the Gawlik Lab in January 2014 as a Ph.D. Student. While vultures have been my primary focus, I am interested in Wood Storks due in part to their endangered status and of course, their taxonomic relation to the New World vultures. My PhD research focuses on the features of road corridors that attract or discourage Wood Stork use.