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Tracy Rittenhouse

Assistant Professor

My students and I are interested in where animals live, how animals move across landscapes, and why populations persist in some locations and not others.  The goal of our research is to understand how wildlife populations respond to climate change, land-management practices, urban development, and disease.  We ask ecological research questions that address global conservation topics, yet focus on the uniqueness of local places and serve the research needs of managers who make decisions about local wildlife populations.

Estimation of Population Size and Demographic Parameters

A model is only as good as its data input.             

Empirical data is the foundation for the advanced models increasingly being used by wildlife ecologists.  We design experiments at multiple spatial scales such that robust estimates of vital rates are obtained and thus available as inputs into population models.  We estimate population size using a variety of mark-recapture techniques and survival in controlled experiments using outdoor mesocosms and from free ranging animals.  We experimentally test or develop models to understand how vital rates change when habitat is altered.

Wildlife Response to Variability in Local Climates

Connecticut welcomed Tracy with a record high of 103°F at Hartford airport (July 2011), Hurricane Irene (August 2011), a Halloween snowfall (October 2011) and then Superstorm Sandy (Oct 2012).    

We are conducting experimental climatechange research on wildlife. Amphibians live at similar temporal (i.e., life spans up to 10 years) and spatial scales (i.e., local populations requires square kilometers of habitat) as birds and mammals, yet amphibians lack the large daily movements and thus we are able to manipulate habitat and weather conditions.  We work within an outdoor research facility with infrastructure for manipulating temperature in aquatic tanks.  Soon we will be adding infrastructure for manipulations of temperature and moisture in terrestrial enclosures.

Habitat Heterogeneity, Composition, and Fragmentation

  Home…the place where one lives.

Much of our research tests theories of habitat  selection, which we test by distinguishing the behavioral  choice an animal makes from the demographic outcomes of that choice.  Animals make behavioral choices about where and when to spend time and who to avoid, and thus we quantify movement behavior.  We then estimate the survival rates that are the result of these choices.  Projects span a wide range of species and topics from migration of amphibians or mule deer, movements of black bears in an exurban landscape, small mammal response to habitat heterogeneity in biomass harvest, and manipulations of protozoa in experimental landscapes.

Disease Ecology

Greater than 90% mortality of larvae within a wetland. 

Ranaviruses cause about half of the reported local mass mortality events of amphibian larvae in US and ranavirus infections are also reported in reptiles and fish.  Yet the ecology of this disease is poorly understood.  Our goal is to determine whether this disease is a conservation threat to amphibian populations in the northeastern U.S., by studying demographics of local populations and movement of pathogen among populations.  Ongoing surveillance work is designed to quantify the prevalence of ranavirus in Connecticut and the frequency of mass morality events.

 

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Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Center
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment
University of Connecticut
1376 Storrs Road, Unit 4087