Director of Conservation and Field Research
Ph.D. 2000, University of Missouri
M.S. 1988, University of Michigan
B.A. 1981, Kalamazoo College
My research focuses on the wintering ecology of Neotropical migratory birds in the Caribbean basin including population dynamics, ecological relationships, and habitat relationships at multiple scales. I am especially interested in understanding how birds respond to natural and anthropogenic change to their habitat.
My dissertation research built on previous work in which I examined the effect of fragment size on species composition and site fidelity of wintering migrants, with different-sized shade coffee plantations in an agricultural setting serving as a model for fragmented forest landscapes. For my dissertation I assessed winter population regulation of migrants in native habitats by analyzing habitat specific demographic and site fidelity data of birds along an altitudinal gradient.
My data suggested that studies of population regulation of wintering migrants should look more broadly at habitat characteristics, and should consider the effects of habitat heterogeneity and habitat seasonality on indices of survival and fitness. I also presented the first evidence that an ectoparasite can play a significant role in winter population regulation of migrant landbirds.
Current studies are assessing the value of early-successional scrub and broadleaf forests to wintering migrants and other landbirds, and the use of cenotes and other natural and restored riparian habitats by migratory birds.
Other work focuses on the distribution and effects of the avian malaria parasite (Haemoproteus and Plasmodium) in the Caribbean and North America by characterizing the geographic distribution of parasite lineages, the prevalence and intensity of infections in avian hosts among different habitats in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, and community relationships among parasite lineages and avian hosts on these islands.
I am also completing a study of avian reproductive success in widespread habitats in the Dominican Republic to evaluate population trends of resident species, and to assess reasons for population changes. This is the only broad-based nest monitoring program in the Caribbean region and one of only a few such studies in the Neotropics.
Previously I completed a study of endemic todies, and completed the first study of the ecology of the rare endemic Hispaniolan Crossbill which included a hierarchical habitat analysis, a model of habitat loss and population projections, and conservation recommendations. Studies of the ecology and conservation of additional Hispaniolan endemic birds are planned.
Monitoring of landbird populations is also a key part of my work. I have helped design and expand bird monitoring programs in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and Ecuador. In a strategy I designed utilizing flexible protocols that incorporate standardized monitoring methods, I help build monitoring programs based on locally-defined objectives that will provide results with relevance to local management concerns, while also enabling participants to participate in wider, regional and international monitoring efforts to help determine population trends and habitat relationships of birds at a scale far greater than any single monitoring effort. These monitoring methods also allow us to address basic research questions of the ecology and natural history of migratory and resident bird species.
Beyond the obvious conservation implications of much of my work, I also use my professional standing to pursue important conservation goals, including programs of environmental education, the creation of networks of activist groups in communities around national parks, national-level avian conservation planning, and the publication of a variety of books aimed at educating schoolchildren, birdwatchers, and young professionals of the importance of bird conservation.
I design and present training workshops for biologists and naturalists in field research techniques and skills needed to interpret and apply monitoring data to conservation planning, and sponsor biologists in three-month internships to help them gain expertise to work independently and establish permanent careers in conservation biology. My goal is to build local scientific capacity to help ensure effective and successful conservation efforts for the long term.
Send an email to Dr. Steven Latta