The Nature Conservancy announced today the hiring of Marissa Ahlering as prairie ecologist. Ahlering will help guide the Conservancy’s grassland conservation work in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota by developing and coordinating research on prairies.
Meredith Cornett, who directs the Conservancy’s science staff who conduct research in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said that this is the first time the Conservancy has employed a prairie ecologist in the region.
“Grasslands are one of the most endangered and least protected habitat types on Earth, and we need good science to inform our conservation work so that we can focus our efforts on priority areas and the most promising restoration strategies,” Cornett said.
Ahlering has studied grasslands in both North America and Africa. In North Dakota and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, her research has included examining the cues used by Baird’s and grasshopper sparrows to select habitat for nesting sites – information that is vital to understanding the needs of these grassland species and that provides insight as to how best conserve other prairie birds.
In Kenya, Ahlering looked at the dynamics of elephant populations outside protected areas: their dispersal patterns, the genetic relationships of elephants with other individuals in their groups, and their ability to adapt to life adjacent to croplands and alongside cattle. That work was undertaken by Ahlering as a postdoctoral research fellow with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park as part of an effort to create a regional plan for elephant conservation using land management. Elephants are keystone species in savannas not unlike the mixed-grass prairies in the Dakotas. In mixed grass prairies, the productivity of native species is patchy and careful land management is critical to the sustainable use of natural resources.
Ahlering said she’s excited about her new position with the Conservancy because she loves prairies and wants to help conserve them for future generations. “I like the open spaces, the feeling I get when I am on a prairie that nature could go on forever,” she said.
Ahlering holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Creighton University in Nebraska and a doctorate in avian ecology from the University of Missouri.
Ahlering works out of her office at the University of North Dakota where she is also adjunct faculty. She resides in Grand Forks with her husband Chris.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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