Research Questions

We use both field research and our campus laboratories to try to better understand nature in and around our small town. The majority of our field research projects take place at our outdoor field station, which is a large, city-owned greenway space.

Our research questions tend to center around interesting things we observe at our field station. Projects may be different from semester to semester as we work with different groups of students. The main questions are as follows:

Deer population and movement patterns
If you spend any amount of time outside, especially early mornings or late evenings, you are likely to see deer. White-tailed deer are widely distributed throughout NC and also Iredell County. We are broadly interested in understanding how deer move in and around small urban cities. We are also curious about how deer population, especially in our county, fluctuates year after year. You can find the related post here.

Coyote population dynamics
Coyotes are an apex predator in NC. Even though their population is doing very well, they are good at hiding in developed areas. We use motion-activated camera traps to understand which habitats they occupy, when they move in developed areas compared to undeveloped areas, what they are eating, and to learn how many individuals can live in a certain area. Posts are here.

Movement of animals in urban and suburban environments
Do animals, specifically mammals (i.e. deer, coyotes, red fox, grey fox, raccoons, opossums, grey squirrels), move differently when they are in and around urban environments? We are interested in using camera traps to look for patterns of animal movement in and around Statesville, NC. We would really like to better understand how animals are using the greenway trails and spaces throughout town. See related posts here.

Diversity of Bacteriophages
Phages, viruses that infect bacteria, are ancient predators. They are abundant, but the scientific community knows very little about them. We collect soil samples and isolate novel phages. Then, we sequence DNA so that we can learn more about them by peering into their genome. This research is part of a national recognized program, SEA-PHAGES, which is sponsored by HHMI. See more about the program here. Related posts are here.

DNA barcoding and insect diversity
How does the richness and/or evenness of insects differ in an area that gets a lot of “foot-traffic” compared to a more natural area? We are using measuring insect diversity on campus as well as at our research station. We are using both field guides as well as DNA barcoding for identification. Related posts can be found here.

Post-anoxic behaviors of the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes
Populations of R. flavipes are widespread throughout most of the eastern United States. Eastern subterranean termites are important to the recycling of essential nutrients in forest ecosystems. However, they also cause damage to wooden structures, including houses. Subterranean termites have the ability to survive flooding conditions by lowering their metabolism. This may decrease the activity of termites in areas with high amounts of rainfall. We investigate the connection between the ability of termites to lower their metabolism to survive floods and the feeding behavior of termites. See related posts here.

Biodiversity, ecology, and natural history of the barred owl, Strix varia, and the great-horned owl, Bubo virginianis
Our field station has given us a tremendous opportunity to observe and study both barred owls as well as great-horned owls. We have studied social, hunting, and nesting behaviors with motion-activated cameras and videos. We have also been able to investigate how both of their niches overlap.

iNaturalist observations

GitHub code