Stouffer Lab

Phil Stouffer on  Kilimanjaro

This page describes my interests and the work going on in my lab. Use the links to get more information.

I study the ecology and conservation of birds. Here are brief descriptions of some ongoing and recently completed projects.

Rusty BlackbirdSeaside Sparrows in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  Together with RNR colleague Sabrina Taylor, former RNR post-docs Stefan Woltmann, Christy Bergeon Burns, and Andrea Bonisoli Alquati, and other collaborators, we're studying the effects of the oil spill on Seaside Sparrows, a species that spends its entire life on salt marshes, including breeding in areas known to be affected by the spill. We're examining density, diet, movements, and nest success in contaminated and control areas. We're also using qPCR to determine expression of a gene involved in detoxifying oil. This project is part of the Coastal Waters Consortium. Working with other consortium collaborators at LSU, we hope to extend our work to terrestrial food web effects of the spill. LSU published a Research Communication about this work, visible here. See photos of our work on the marsh.

Seaside Sparrow systematics are poorly understood. Four described subspecies occur across the northern Gulf, but their genetic differentiation has not been described. Part of Stef's project, funded in part by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, will quantify genetic structure, providing important information for conservation planning in the face of likely oil spills and certain marsh loss.


sparrowWinter ecology of Henslow's Sparrows. We're examining how grassland management affects wintering Henslow's Sparrows in Louisiana and Mississippi. We've shown that sparrow abundance is tightly linked to growing-season burning, with abundance declining to near zero in most savannas after more than three years without burning. This immediate effect of burning varies somewhat between eastern and western Louisiana, with the advantage to birds coming slightly later in the west (go to the Reprints section for papers on this, based on work by Cathy Bechtoldt and Laura Palasz). Upon arrival in the fall, birds apparently assess savanna condition, often moving in the first month after arrival. For the rest of the winter, however, they are more sedentary (see Reprints for papers by Erik Johnson). We've also studied seed availability and diet preference (see papers by Jenny DiMiceli and Erik Johnson) to unravel more of the details of this elusive bird's winter ecology. Go to the Students section for theses on Henslow's Sparrows by Jenny DiMiceli, Erik Johnson, Laura Palasz, and Matt Brooks. For over 10 years we collaborated with high school students to monitor Henslow’s Sparrows at 10 savannahs in southeastern Louisiana through the cooperation and energy of science teacher Ken Hackman from Madison Central High School.

Forest fragmentationEffects of forest fragmentation on Amazonian birds.  For over 20 years I've been studying birds in experimentally-isolated rainforest fragments in Amazonian Brazil.  This work will continue through 2018 as we continue our long-term mist net sampling and add whole-community surveys.   Our current research is funded by the National Science Foundation through an LTREB grant.  See the Brazil data page for more information on what we're doing and how the long-term data can be shared.

Graduate students Erik Johnson, Luke Powell, Jared Wolfe, Karl Mokross, and Angélica Hernández completed their dissertations based on work from this project. See students and reprints for more on their work. PhD students Cameron Rutt and Vitek Jirinec are continuing this research. Many more photographs of birds (and other animals), people, and the landscape where we work are posted in Flickr under StoufferLSU.

Rusty BlackbirdRusty Blackbirds in Louisiana.  The Rusty Blackbird has shown one of the most precipitous population declines of any North American bird.  One hypothesis for their decline is that their winter distribution is tightly linked to floodplain forests, which have been greatly reduced along the major rivers of the central and eastern US.  Graduate student Emma DeLeon completed her thesis on abundance, habitat associations, and survey efficiency of Rusty Blackbirds in southern Louisiana.  She also put together a great summary geared toward citizen scientists interested in Rusty Blackbirds. Her project was part of a network of research concerned with rusties, and makes considerable use of citizen science data, particularly the great network of birders in Lousiana, eBird, and the annual Rusty Blackbird Blitz. Graduate student Sinéad Borchert continued the project, following the sites identified by Emma and adding spatial analysis from the Louisiana Winter Bird Atlas.




Birds in Swamp CommunitiesUrban birds at Bluebonnet Swamp.  Graduate student Jared Wolfe and former student Erik Johnson deserve full credit for developing this great project. Now managed by lead bander Dan Mooney, this project at a public park has involved banding about every three weeks since 2010. Bluebonnet Park is used by BREC (Baton Rouge's parks commission) for many of their environmental education programs; we work with BREC to include demonstrations with live birds. The project has also catalyzed interest among a cross section of local people interested in birds, from high school students to retirees (among them photographer John Hartgerink, who provided the photo here). A main focus has been on age and sex id at the cutting edge, including a workshop by banding guru Peter Pyle and a growing repository of spread wing photos. Results include natural history observations and new insights into molt (all described in detail on the project's site at Baton Rouge Audubon and at a separate Shutterfly archive). We've recently added an international collaboration, mostly for outreach (but hopefully with shared species tagged with geolocators!) with the Costa Rica Bird Observatory.

Yellow-breasted ChatBirds in managed pine forests.  We've done a number of projects with birds in loblolly pine plantations.  Most of this research has been funded by Weyerhaeuser Company.  We recently finished a study of breeding bird and vegetation response to two different row spacing and debris management protocols in young pine plantations.  Graduate student Falyn Owens most recently worked on this project (see her thesis).  These forests provide habitat for early-successional birds of conservation concern, such as Prairie Warbler.  We're also looked at birds that use forests later in succession, such as Hermit Thrush and Swainson's Warbler.  An important result for Swainson's Warbler was their high densities in unthinnned plantations, but near disappearance after thinning.  See reprints for Audra Bassett's paper on Swainson's Warblers (and a bunch of papers on Hermit Thrushes).

Pitcher Plant bogHurricane Katrina and grassland birds.  Hurricane Katrina devastated forests in its path, including De Soto National Forest in Mississippi.  At De Soto, the result was a massive salvage logging operation and interruption of normal fire management.  With support from USFWS, we examined how the damage, subsequent salvage, and fire management affected grassland birds.  Matt Brooks spearheaded this project, which included his thesis on wintering birds, resulting in several papers avainable in Reprints, and a separate project on breeding birds.  Among wintering birds, pitcher plant bogs and areas managed for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were especially important for Henslow's Sparrows.  Salvage and canopy tree loss was generally beneficial for the most sensitive breeding grassland bird, Bachman's Sparrow.

Birds in Swamp CommunitiesBird communities in swamp forests.  Wetlands that were historically dominated by baldcypress and tupelo gum are disappearing in Louisiana.  We've studied these forests surrounding Lake Maurepas, an area that includes a few remnants of old or regenerating forest, large areas of partially degraded forest with little regeneration, and some areas that were formerly forested that have degraded to open marsh.  Work by former graduate student Jason Zoller showed little difference in the bird communities between regenerating and partially degraded marsh, but much lower abundance of breeding migrants in the open marsh.  Graduate student David Fox continued this work, and also looked at the effects of herbivory by forest tent caterpillars on tree growth for his MS thesis (available under Students).  Dave also coordinated data collection for a study of the effects on birds and alligators of a freshwater diversion into the Lake Maurepas system.

Radar identification of stopover habitat for trans-gulf migrants.  We studied habitat selection by migrants passing through the western Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas system in the spring and fall.  NEXRAD radar shows us where birds lift off at dusk to continue migration.  From this, we  quantified their distribution in the landscape and stopover habitat preferences.  Jason Zoller worked on this project.  See our final report and a summary.