Research Fellowship Recipients | 2014

Research fellowships offered by Alaska Geographic and Denali Education Center through the Murie Science and Learning Center help scientists conduct field research in Arctic and subarctic Alaskan national parks.

Seven researchers received fellowships in 2014 to conduct studies in four arctic and subarctic national parks in Alaska. Many of these fellows are graduate students.

Archaeological Survey of the Stony Creek and Toklat River Corridor

Alaska Geographic 2014 Research Fellowship
Jacob Adams, Washington State University (Ph.D. student)
Denali National Park and Preserve

Jacob's project examines the archaeological potential of the river corridors of Stony Creek and the Toklat River. He will conduct subsurface shovel tests at eight locations identified as promising for archeological finds. These river drainages had little to no glaciation, so ice-age mammals may have congregated there—and prehistoric peoples may have searched there to find and hunt these mammals. This research will provide another piece to the puzzle of human land use patterns by hunter-gatherers during prehistoric times in Alaska.

Jacob is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology at Washington State University in Pullman, where he studies lithic technology and hunter-gatherer adaptations.

The Hydrology of Biological Hotspots in Glacierized Catchments

Measuring the Biotic Integrity of Eldorado Creek

Discover Denali 2014 Research Fellowship
Robin Henderson, Washington State University (Ph.D. student)
Denali National Park and Preserve

Robin Henderson's research will help determine if stream restoration improves the biotic integrity of Eldorado Creek. This creek, located in the Kantishna Hills region of Denali, has been affected by extensive aquatic, riparian, and upland mining-related impacts. The stream is being restored to more natural flow patterns in 2014. Henderson will collect aquatic macroinvertebrates, including the larvae of mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, which live under rocks and in stream beds, and use them as indicators of the ecological health of the creek. These macroinvertebrates serve well as biological indicators because they integrate the effects of post-mining contaminants overtime, are ubiquitous as well as diverse, have a well-known taxonomy, are easy to collect, have well-matched life cycles in relation to the time scales associated with many stressors, and are important in key ecosystem processes. Robin will collect macroinvertebrates in several reference upstream portions or "reaches" of Eldorado Creek before channel realignment in 2014.

Following identification of the benthic macroinvertebrates, she'll use a biotic index (observed number of species compared to expected number of species) as an estimate of the stream's ecological integrity. Beginning in 2015, after stream restoration, she and others will resample the reference reaches, in addition to the newly aligned stream channel, to determine whether the restoration improved the biotic integrity of Eldorado Creek.

Robin is a Ph.D. student in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at Washington State University, Tri-Cities.

Nesting Activity of the Kittlitz's Murrelet in Cape Krusenstern National Monument

Alaska Geographic 2014 Research Fellowship
Michelle Kissling, volunteering as independent researcher
Cape Krusenstern National Monument

Michelle Kissling will study nesting activity of the Kittlitz's murrelet in the Kakagrak Hills region of Cape Krusenstern National Monument. The Kittlitz's murrelet is a small, uncommon seabird that is endemic to coastal Alaska and eastern Russia. It is often found in glacially-influenced marine waters during the breeding season. Unlike most seabird species, this species nests solitarily, not in colonies, and therefore has adopted secretive nesting habits to avoid detection by predators. Not surprisingly, few nest records exist (234 nests rangewide) and only 13 of these were located in northern Alaska, including two in Cape Krusenstern.

However, the nesting success of the Kittlitz's murrelet, as documented by researchers, has been low, especially in northern Alaska, raising concern that in northern Alaska, or perhaps in non-glacial habitats, birds may invest effort in nesting that does not contribute to population success. As a first step toward understanding the role and value of northern Alaska to nesting Kittlitz's murrelets, Michelle will search for Kittlitz's murrelet nests to estimate nest density, and, if nests are found, will place remote cameras near them. She will be able to document nesting activity, whether the nest fails, and, if the nest fails, the cause and the nest stage at failure. She will compare results to those from south-coastal Alaska where she has studied this species for the last 10 years.

Michelle is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee, but is volunteering for the project as an independent researcher.

Human-Bear Interaction in McCarthy / Kennecott, Alaska

Alaska Geographic 2014 Fellowship
Leanne Phelps, University College, London (M.Sc. student)
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve

McCarthy and Kennecott residents live with both grizzlies and black bears on a daily basis. Leanne's human-bear research seeks to understand the variety of local attitudes toward bears, and how locals relate to bear safety regulations in McCarthy/Kennicott. In doing so, she wants to contribute to conflict mitigation. She plans to document and analyze accounts of human-bear interaction with local residents, understand bear safety techniques, and seek out further community-based solutions to conflict. Leanne plans to create visual media (e.g., video, photograph, bear-safety posters), which will be disseminated to the community in collaboration with the NPS. Furthermore, she will explore possible uses of apps to collect data and use the data in community-based conflict mitigation.

Leanne is Masters student in the Department of Anthropology, Environment & Development at University College London.

Are Hot Springs and Their Surroundings Especially Vulnerable to Plant Invasion?

Alaska Geographic 2014 Fellowship
Lisa Strecker, University of Alaska Fairbanks (Ph.D. student)
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Lisa Strecker's study investigates whether hot springs in Alaska are especially prone to plant invasion, and how the invasion process is driven by human disturbance of these ecosystems. Near hot springs, the soils are characterized by higher temperatures, and special properties related to their chemistry, salinity, and pH. Often the plant communities that grow in these specialized geothermal habitats include rare and endemic species. Non-native plants thrive in these warmer habitats too, if the plants or seeds can get there. Human disturbance often facilitates the success of invasive plants in these environments.

The development of hot springs to accommodate tourism can be a threat to the fragile and poorly-studied natural plant communities. In order to effectively manage these plant communities, Lisa Strecker is studying them to find out: (1) which species grow at Alaska's hot springs, (2) what are the biggest threats to those ecosystems, and (3) how can the impacts or threats be avoided or mitigated? Lisa's project is part of a larger collaboration with Olga Chernyagina (Pacific Institute of Geography, Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences) on invasive versus rare and endangered plants at hot springs in the Pacific Rim (Kamchatka and Alaska).

Lisa is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Tracking Denali's Avian Migrants

Alaska Geographic and Discover Denali 2014 Research Fellowships
Scott Weidensaul, Pennsylvania-based writer and researcher
Denali National Park and Preserve

Birds that nest in Alaska migrate to the 49th state each year from Africa, Asia, the Pacific islands, and South America. Scott Weidensaul and his collaborators will use the funding to jump start a large project, which will document the details of these incredible migrations, provide Alaska park managers with the information they need to preserve these long-distance travelers, and create an online migration atlas to allow the public to follow new discoveries about migratory birds in Alaska's national parks.

The first stage of this project will focus on two migrant songbirds that nest in Denali: Arctic warblers and Wilson's warblers. Denali's Arctic warblers winter in unknown locations in southeast Asia. These small songbirds appear to be responding to climate-related plant community change by moving into higher elevations in the park. Wilson's warblers, which winter in Mexico and Central America, are one of the Denali's most common birds, but, since 1998, have declined in the park by 48 percent. Scott Weidensaul and his collaborators will learn the year-round movements of these birds by tagging 30 individuals of each species using tiny geolocators.The researchers will also collect information on the birds' nesting ecology and success, and take blood samples for genetic and contaminant tests. The fellowship funding in 2014 will purchase geolocators.

Weidensaul is a writer and researcher based in Pennsylvania, who has been studying bird migration for more than 20 years, including tracking snowy owl movements with GPS transmitters (Project SNOWstorm). His collaborators for this project are Dr.Iain Stenhouse (expert on new tracking devices from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Gorham, Maine); Dr. Carol McIntyre (ornithologist with 30 years of experience with migratory birds in Denali); and Laura Philips (ecologist and seabird and shorebird expert at Kenai Fjords National Park).

Last updated: May 6, 2015