Member Spotlight – Shelly Johnson, PhD Candidate
Shelly’s research: Evaluating the Ecosystem Services of Wildlife in Florida Forests
Humans derive a myriad of benefits from the natural environment, many of which are paramount to our survival. Forest ecosystems provide habitat for many species of wildlife, and also provide humans with food, timber, clean water, recreation, and more. These benefits that humans receive from the natural environment are termed ‘ecosystem services’. Inclusive of these benefits are those that humans receive from the wildlife itself, including pest control, tourism, food, and appreciation of the animals themselves. Different types of forest management may change (increase or decrease) the benefits that are provided, and thus may be perceived as either positive or negative by society.
The native longleaf pine ecosystem in the SE United States presents an ideal case study to determine the effects of management. Less than 3% of this native ecosystem remains due to land use change and development. Thus, state and federal agencies in Florida offer incentive programs to encourage management and restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems. However, management may result in changes to the benefits (ecosystem services) associated with these forest systems. I am using a multidisciplinary approach to: 1) determine how different management may simultaneously change conditions for different species of terrestrial wildlife, 2) identify the social values associated with the ecosystem services related to these wildlife species, and 3) compare the benefits humans receive from wildlife with other benefits humans receive from forests.
To meet these objectives, I am creating a computer model showing where different wildlife habitats potentially overlap, in order to identify where changes in management may help or hurt different species of wildlife (and thus their associated ecosystem services). For example, the figure above illustrates the tradeoffs between different types of forest management. On the left side of the balance, a restored longleaf habitat is shown, which is better suited for gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker. In contrast, the unrestored hammock is shown on the right, which is ideal black bear habitat. Using these results, I am conducting a social survey to assess values Floridians ascribe to ecosystem services of wildlife. In the above example, the black bear is valued for its charisma that many people just appreciate knowing exists, whereas the woodpecker is valued for providing recreational opportunities and the tortoise is valued for supporting other animals in the ecosystem. Finally, I am applying these social values to a case study, illuminating relationships among wildlife and other ecosystem services (e.g. timber, carbon, water). This research provides new information about relationships among a diversity of wildlife species in relation to forest conditions, informing forest management recommendations and providing a solid basis for further study on the benefits provided by ecosystems.
Funding for this research was provided by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the ‘Conserved Forest Ecosystems: Outreach and Research Cooperative’ in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida.
More about Shelly
Shelly grew up in northern Idaho, where she completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Resources at the University of Idaho. After years of working as a wildlife field technician on numerous conservation projects throughout the western United States and tropical Americas, she studied bat habitat in northern Arizona and earned her Master of Science degree at Northern Arizona University. After a few more years of adventurous field work, she enrolled at the University of Florida, where she is currently a PhD candidate in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation. Shelly will also earn a minor degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Certificate of Tropical Conservation and Development. She is supported through a USDA National Needs Fellowship and a NIFA Pre-doctoral Graduate Fellowship.