Research Topics and Current Projects
Research Topics and Current Projects
We tend to focus most our research efforts on the ecology, conservation biology and management of aquatic and semi-aquatic animals. Our research is supported by many sponsors, including US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation, Office of Surface Mines and Reclamation and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Here are a few examples.
1) Responses of wildlife populations and communities to land-use changes and anthropogenic disturbances.
- Our research has demonstrated that streams on reclaimed mined land have reduced stream salamander occupancy, abundance and species richness compared to reference streams (Muncy et al. 2014; Price et al. 2016; Price et al. 2018). These findings suggest that current reclamation approaches, as required through the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act, do not offset the impacts of mining on stream biota. Changes to water chemistry may be a mechanism behind population declines. Jake Hutton (past MS student) showed that salamander occupancy and abundance decline and diets shift as specific conductivity increases in streams (Hutton et al. 2020, Hutton et al. 2021)
- Michaela Lambert (past MS student) examined amphibian communities in restored wetlands and forest reclamation on surface mines in the Monongahela National Forest. Most of the regional amphibians exhibited high occupancy rates and abundances in the restored wetlands (Lambert et al. in review). We are expanding on Michaela’s research by exploring the use of various wildlife groups (amphibians, birds, bats, mammals) to forest reclamation in West Virginia and Kentucky. This project will provide critical information on whether species of concern are utilizing reclaimed mines and provide insight on what habitat types are more suitable to support their populations.
- Within the context of renewable energy development, we completed several projects that investigated the population ecology, behavior and management of the imperiled desert tortoise on wind energy facilities in the Western US (i.e., Agha et al. 2015).
2) Development and refinement of novel field methods and statistical approaches in wildlife studies
- The Price lab documented snake fungal disease in Kentucky in 2014 (Price et al. 2015; Lorch et al. 2016) and, in collaboration with researchers at the National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Wisconsin, University of Western Ontario and Smithsonian Institution, we used novel capture-mark-recapture techniques and laboratory tests that quantify infection severity to measure the effects of this emerging disease on survivorship and behavior in wild snake populations (McKenzie et al. 2021).
- We used passive integrated transponder telemetry and spatial capture-mark-recapture to estimate snake densities in relation to land-use in central Kentucky (Leuenberger et al. 2019).
- In collaboration with researchers at USGS and Utah State University, we using a relatively new growth model (that incorporates measurement error) to examine the relationship with SFD and snake growth in the wild.
- Sarah Tomke (PhD student FNRS) is examining the distribution of the hellbender in Kentucky using environmental DNA (eDNA) and occupancy modeling. Sarah has identified several populations, and the results of her work will serve to refine eDNA protocol for this species.
Influence of network structure and land-use heterogeneity on dispersal, gene flow and population structure in lotic-associated animals.
- In collaboration with Dr. David Weisrock (UK-Biology) and Dr. Wendell Haag (US Forest Service), we investigated both the spatial extent and relative importance of host dispersal for gene flow and population structure within several freshwater mussel species.
- Mason Murphy (UK Biology MS and current PhD student and Miami University (OH)) used genomic techniques to study the effects of network structure on mudpuppies in Kentucky (See Murphy et al. 2018).
- In collaboration with Dr. Paul Hime (University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute), Dr. David Weisrock and others, we are examining population structure and gene flow in hellbenders throughout their range.
- Kathryn Greene (UK Biology PhD Student, NSF Graduate Research Fellow) is using traditional capture-mark-recapture and genomic techniques to examine dispersal of stream salamanders in UK’s Robinson Forest and adjacent mined lands.
3) Natural History, ecology and management of imperiled animal populations.
- In collaboration with Wendell Haag (USFS), we conducted in-situ experiments, using juvenile mussels, to identify causes of mussel decline. Our recent research suggests the invasive Asian Clam may compete with native mussels and may be a major factor in mussel declines (Haag et al. 2021). We have also started a large-scale project to examine causes of mussel declines. Funded by American Rivers, the project encompasses a broad area of North America including the Appalachian Region, other upland areas of the Southeast, Gulf and Atlantic coast river systems, and the former prairie regions of the Midwest. The project will consist of two research components: (1) investigating associations between mussel faunal health and potential causal factors and (2) direct assessments of the health of captive-reared juvenile mussels to ambient conditions in streams.
- We have several ongoing projects focused on assessing imperiled amphibians species in Kentucky, including hellbenders, lesser sirens (Davis et al. 2021), streamside salamanders (Drayer et al. 2020) and northern crawfish frogs (Drayer et al. 2020).
- With Dr. Stephen Richter (Eastern Kentucky University) and John MacGregor (KDFWR), Dr. Price is working on a new book: Reptiles and Amphibians of Kentucky, The book includes 126 species accounts with maps and images, keys for adults and larvae and introductory chapters on Kentucky habitats, physiography and reptile and amphibian conservation and management. This project is a monumental task as the last update to the Commonwealths’ reptiles and amphibians occurred in the early 1970s.