Allyson Richins

aliAllyson’s 2013 REU project was “Isotope fractionation in plants and local plant isoscapes at Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge.”

Predation plays a dramatic ecological role at Sevilleta, directly resulting in the cycling of nutrients from producers to primary and secondary consumers, and indirectly resulting in the cycling of nutrients to scavengers, detrivores, and ultimately the soil (Schmitz et al). This project set a foundation for future food web research by examining isotopic fractionation in a diversity of plant species between two distinct microhabitats, grassland and shrubland. Fractionation data was compared between different microhabitats, different years, and different species at a particular location. Results indicated statistical significance in d13C and d15N between different species across each array, and significance for d13C values between different microhabitats for most plants. d13C values for particular species had a much lower range than the values for d15N. An isoscape map was also constructed to better visualize the spread of flora at the different habitats. In the future, the isotopic data collected this summer will be compared to isotopic analysis of insect and small mammal tissues to determine animal diets, and to determine whether these organisms are generalists, or C3 or C4 specialists.

Allyson graduated with her B.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico in 2016.

Brennan Davis

brennanBrennan’s 2013 REU project was “Effects of drought on diatom diversity, distribution and population density.”

This project was an attempt to identify the reactions of diatom communities to severe drought on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.  Diatoms from 1 natural spring and 10 manmade drinker wells were sampled, as were the water sources.  Surrounding vegetation and scat were accounted for as well.  No statistically significant correlations could be made between drought and diatom diversity or density.  The project was significant in that it established a relatively thorough compilation of generic diatom assemblages and water chemistry on the Sevilleta NWR, enabling further research to be conducted on the subject.

Brennan graduated in 2014 with a B.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico. He is currently working as a Conservation and Land Management intern at Seeds of Success.

Briana Albini

briana.jpgBriana’s 2013 REU project was “Changes in aquatic invertebrate community diversity during supra-seasonal drought conditions”.

Droughts are a disturbance that affects both water systems and the ecology within and surrounding these water systems. In particular, supra-seasonal droughts can have a devastating effect on the ecology of streams due to their random occurrences and extended disturbance time period. Aquatic invertebrates have better adapted to seasonal droughts because they occur periodically, but have not adapted to supra-seasonal droughts due to their random nature. At the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, in New Mexico, I performed a study to test if there was any connection between a supra-seasonal drought and the diversity of invertebrates between the years 2010 and 2013.  In addition, vegetation and scat surveys were taken from the area surrounding the drinkers. These surveys were used to see if there is any correlation between vegetation, animal usage of water sources, and taxonomic richness. It was found that the vegetation did have a correlation with richness (R2 = 0.3536). Animal usage had no correlation with richness (R2 value = 0.0353). The drinker at San Lorenzo East had the greatest taxonomic richness with 11 taxa.  No taxa were found from dry sediment sources. After performing a paired t-test, there was found to be no significant difference between the taxonomic richness between 2010 and 2013. My findings suggest that there is no difference between 2010 and 2013 taxonomic richness in the drinkers and springs of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, but there was a lot of turnover.

Briana graduated in 2013 with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Geography from the University of Hawaii, Hilo. She currently works as an Environmental Coordinator at Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

David Linares

davidDavid’s 2013 REU Art in Ecology Project was “Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge through my eyes”.

The work of an artist in any field is based on an inspiration, in something that matters. In my case I am a person who wants to be an architect and help nature with my imagination. In order for me to be able to help nature in it’s all I need to understand it. My inspiration is coming from my love of and desire to help the earth and creating a building that can make history in any shape or form, but I would love if that history comes from being a skyscraper that is totally energy sufficient.

I am the son of a beekeeper who has learned to love bees and nature. My background in being a beekeeper and living all my life around them has thought me that all living things relay on one and other, and humans are not the exception. With the understanding of this concept I get the desire of picturing the beauties of the earth like the little lizards that help regulate the population of many different insects, or the magnificent eagle that hunts many creatures. In my need of knowing more about nature I have been looking for my inspiration around the Sevilleta refuge.

In my trips with the science REUs I have been finding many things that I want to take pictures of and keep a moment of the thing or creature. My favorite step of my job is the Photoshop part. In this step is where I can play with my imagination. In my picture I like to make people see the beauty of the landscape, or something that might not be even close to what is in the picture. When I start working in the computer I start to make up things in my mind and that makes me create many wired things. For example if I take a picture of grass, I change the colors to make it seem like if it was something totally different, or if is an animal that I have a picture of I change the colors to make it seem like a totally different creature maybe something that is totally out of this world.

In the SEV I have been finding may different forms of inspirations that contribute to my interest in understanding nature and maybe a mythical form in which I think that the earth might work. The SEV is not only a wild life refuge, but is also a historic sight, this is something that I have learned in the time I have been here. This is one reason why the place became more interesting to me when I heard part of the history of the place. By knowing part of the history of the place it makes me wonder what kind of people lived here in the times when Rome was considered the place to be at, I would love to know what kind of buildings they just to have if they had any. With these questions that I have I get my inspiration to go out there and take as many pictures as I can and then try to study them to see if I can find different things that might lead to being clues that people left many centuries ago, and now form part of the landscape.

In coming here to the Sevilleta National Wild life Refuge I have filled a need of knowing more about the nature, and been able to create an image that maybe will last in the heart of a person for the rest of their life.

Devin Belt

devin.jpgDevin and Kameron’s 2013 REU presentation was “Water quality survey of the Sevilleta ground and surface waters.”

The objective of the study was to collect, analyze, and report water quality of a variety of wells, drinkers, springs, and the Rio Grande located inside of Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge. The study was completed in several steps. First, water samples were collected in the field. The samples were then taken into the lab for analysis. Finally data was derived from lab tests. This data was then interpreted and compared to previous data collected in 2008-2009. The study found that 29% of waters in the region had disappeared from 2008. The water sources that remained declined in quality but were still relatively healthy.

Evan Hewitt

evanEvan’s 2013 REU project was “A survey of reintroduced Gunnison’s prairie dog impacts on Chihuahuan desert grassland.”

Evan graduated in 2015 with a B.S. in Rangeland Ecology and Management from New Mexico State University.  He currently works for the U.S. Forest Service.


Harold Specter

har.jpgHarold’s 2013 Art in Ecology project was “Sevilleta Enlightning.”

My goal as an REU student at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge is to observe the unique ecological phenomenon that surrounds us, to create artistic interpretations of the flora, fauna, and geological conditions I witness,  to exemplify the inherit beauty and ephemeral qualities of the natural landscape, to create art works that preserve and celebrate these unique occurrences, to observe and record artistic interpretations of the unique and diverse biomes present at the Sevilleta National wildlife refuge (including the Chihuahuan Desert, the Colorado Steps, the Pinon Juniper sites, and the Grasslands), to display said art works in conjunction with the University of New Mexico, and finally to stimulate, create, and facilitate discourse on the topics of art, ecology, and conservation education.

My passion in life is performing and learning about art, and the many different effects it has on our shared culture and heritage.  Through artistic creations inspired by the unique features  found at the Sevilleta, I hope to connect the greater public to the refuge through my own artistic interpretations of the phenomena located therein, and to create an opportunity for public discourse regarding the importance of conservationism, environmental issues threatening protected lands, and provide a better understand of what occurs on the refuge (both naturally occurring and  through  human intervention.)  I am deeply appreciative of this opportunity, and this experience will allow me to exceed the expectations placed on me as a professional art student.

Harold graduated in 2016 with a B.F.A. in Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico.

Kameron Ortiz

kamKameron and Devin’s 2013 REU project was “Water quality survey of the Sevilleta gound and surface waters”.

The objective of the study was to collect, analyze, and report water quality of a variety of wells, drinkers, springs, and the Rio Grande located inside of Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge. The study was completed in several steps. First, water samples were collected in the field. The samples were then taken into the lab for analysis. Finally data was derived from lab tests. This data was then interpreted and compared to previous data collected in 2008-2009. The study found that 29% of waters in the region had disappeared from 2008. The water sources that remained declined in quality but were still relatively healthy.

Kameron graduated in 2015 with a B.S. in Geological and Earth Sciences from UTEP. He is currently a graduate student pursuing a Master’s of Geophysics and Seismology from Penn State University.

Merissa Anderson

mer.jpgMerissa’s 2013 REU project was “The impact of plant composition  on nematode abundance.”

Nematodes are great mechanisms supporting plant communities’ nutrients and their ability to rehabilitate.  However,  species diversity, especially of nematodes, within the soil also contributes to the amount of nutrients being restored into the soil in which they inhabit.  Black grama and nematodes have a mutualistic exchange because plants provide nutrients to the nematodes and also are able to uptake some nutrients released from the nematodes.   To further understand this relationship, we conducted an experiment looking at the influence of proximity to black grama at two sites, a shrubland and a grassland on the Sevilleta NWR.  We found significantly more nematodes closer to the grass than at locations further away. Nitrogen collected near the plant  were also found to be higher, but it was not significant. Total vegetation cover at the sites did not correspond to nematode abundances in relation to grass proximity.

Merissa graduated in 2015 with a B.S. in Environmental Science from Eastern Illinois University.

Nora Dunkirk

noraNora’s 2013 REU project was “Testing causes of ring formation in blue grama grass.”

Plants interact with their soil communities through root interactions with soil and root-inhabiting microorganisms, also known as plant-soil community feedbacks. Plant-soil community feedbacks (PSFs) can shape how a plant grows in its habitat. Negative PSFs, which result when a plant performs worse in association with its own soil community than with the soil communities from other plant species, have been hypothesized to explain why some plants, such as the grass blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), form patches in the shape of rings. The idea is that host-specific pathogens build up in the center of the plant, causing plant dieback and the formation of a ring as the plant grows outward toward pathogen-free soil. The mechanisms for grass ring formation have been minimally studied in the field, and none, to our knowledge, have directly tested for a role of PSFs in ring formation. This study tested the effect of negative PSFs on ring formation by comparing the plant response of blue grama seedlings when grown in soils taken from either inside or outside grass rings in the field to sterile controls.  We found higher rates of germination, survival, and growth for seedlings grown on live soil from inside the ring than from live soil outside the ring, but no difference in plant performance when soils were sterilized, suggesting that a seed would have higher fitness if it landed in the center of a ring than at the outer edge. These results did not support the hypothesis that negative PSFs cause ring formation in blue grama, but suggest instead that pathogen loads may be highest on the outer edges of ring-forming plants.

Nora graduated with her B.S. in Biology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2014. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Ty Werdel

tyTy’s 2013 REU project was “Small mammal abundance and diversity in relation to prairie dog reintroduction sites”.

In the last 150 years prairie dog populations have declined by 90-98%. They historically occupied millions of hectares of land, but due to encroachment on habitat by human populations and extermination their range is disappearing. The Gunnison’s prairie dog’s (Cynomys gunnisoni) range is generally considered the southwest or Four Corners region of the United States. This species was selected to be reintroduced within the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in 2010 because they were present in the area historically before their eradication by ranchers. Their reintroduction within the refuge gives researchers the opportunity to study the effects of C. gunnisoni upon the ecosystem. Much of the research done on the relationship between small mammals and prairie dogs has been with the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).Small mammals, in habitats including prairie dogs, utilize prairie dog burrows for shelter: some cannot dig their own burrows in the hard ground, while others simply exploit them because of their presence (Ceballos, List, and Pacheco, 1998). The burrows also provide escape from predators and denning opportunities. Small mammal species richness, diversity, and abundance have been shown to be higher in areas with prairie dogs when compared to similar habitats without prairie dogs (Ceballos, List, and Pacheco, 1998). Certain species of small mammals are also more apt to live in areas of short grass and bare ground, such as pocket mice (Perognathus) and kangaroo rats (Dipodomys) (Bock and Bock, 2006). Over the range of an ecosystem, small mammal species richness, diversity, and abundance will be higher because of the differing habitats created by prairie dog presence (Fascinating Facts).The research conducted is important to the scientific community because the relationship between small mammals and C. gunnisoni has not been well documented. I evaluated how small mammal species have responded to the presence of C. gunnisoni by measuring small mammal species diversity and relative abundance between control sites and reintroduction sites. This will help to further understand the relationship between C. gunnisoni and the ecosystem which they inhabit.

Ty graduated in 2013 with a B.S. in Rangeland and Wildlife Management from Chadron State College. He is currently a Master’s student in Wildlife Science at South Dakota State University.

Vivien Enriquez

vivVivien’s 2013 REU project was “Rainfall Influence on Lizard Activity Patterns in a Piñon-Juniper Woodland.”

Whiptail lizards are a widespread species within the Teiidae family of reptiles. Insectivores, whiptails within the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico occupy habitat that includes grasslands and the Los Piños Mountains. The foraging behaviors of whiptails are instructive when recorded in relation to drought conditions, microhabitats, and rainfall treatments. This project focuses on observing a suite of whiptail lizard behaviors in order to examine how environmental factors, such as constant drought and rainfall pulses, are drivers of specific animal behaviors and preferred habitat utilization. The research took place on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in the Los Piños Mountains of New Mexico. To analyze and compare behavior in relation to microhabitat activity time budgets were created of two focal whiptail species, Aspidoscelis exsanguis and Aspidoscelis neomexicana from late June through late July of 2013. Although the limited results from this study may not have strong statistical power, on an anecdotal level there appears to be a clear difference of preferred foraging microhabitat among the drought and rainfall treatments where these lizards are located. Through these results we can draw conclusions not only about how drought will affect lizard behavior, but about how drought affects other habitat dynamics, such as soil quality and shade cover and how these factors influence lizard behavior as well.

Vivien graduate in 2015 with a B.A. in Anthropology from Beloit College. She currently works as a Volunteer Coordinator with AmeriCorps.