From frogs to turtles to snakes to trees, conservation principles and approaches are the same.

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Dr. Matthew Chatfield

An early mentor once stated this assertion differently: “It doesn’t matter what you choose to study, just pick what you want to count and where you want to count it.” These are wise words indeed.

I take an integrative approach to conserving imperiled species. Grounded in traditional population ecology methods, my students and I examine multiple – often synergistically acting – causes of species decline. Although my focus has nearly always been amphibians and reptiles, I work across taxonomic boundaries to incorporate other ecologically important groups. My current projects include:

FrogA holistic approach to assessing amphibian health

As a group, amphibians are the most endangered vertebrate class on Earth. They are also well known for their role as indicators of environmental quality and health. In collaboration with Dr. Cheryl Frederick of Unity College and Dr. Cathy Bevier of Colby College, I am tracking and documenting Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans) populations in different aquatic environments at many locations in central Maine. This study provides an integrated approach to understanding potential stressors, which can influence amphibian populations, such as water quality or emerging infectious diseases like ranavirus and chytridiomycosis.

Wood Turtle Conservation of Wood Turtles in a changing world

The Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a medium-sized, semi-aquatic turtle that has experienced widespread declines throughout much of its range. The mixed aquatic-terrestrial life history of the Wood Turtle, coupled with sensitivity to human disturbance, may be partly responsible for the species’ vulnerability to habitat fragmentation and degradation. In spring 2015, in partnership with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and many other Unity faculty, I initiated a mark-recapture study on a nearby population. We are also conducting a radio-telemetry and habitat mapping project that substantially expand upon the existing mark-recapture study. The goal is to understand how habitat use and movement patterns may be influenced by habitat fragmentation and degradation. Understanding these complex interactions will help provide a foundation for making informed, evidence-based management decisions.

SnakeThe Unity Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring Study (RAMS)

Many species exhibit dramatic year-to-year fluctuations in abundance and it is only through long-term studies that researchers are able to discern genuine patterns of population decline from natural background fluctuations. Recent crashes in reptile and amphibian populations worldwide have caused alarm among researchers and the public, causing many to call for increased surveillance of population status and health. This study utilizes a series of cover board arrays to survey and monitor reptile and amphibian composition and abundance across forest to old field ecotones. Coupled with detailed measures of microhabitat, results will help us understand the role that habitat fragmentation has in determining species composition and abundance. A demographic study of the Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) will provide depth to our understanding of species-specific microhabitat requirements and effects of habitat fragmentation.

ChestnutsLost but not forgotten: Restoration of the American chestnut tree

The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was once a foundational species in forests across much of the eastern United States. Beginning in the early 1900s, however, an introduced fungal blight has decimated this species to the point of functional extinction. A massive citizen science effort to restore this iconic tree to the wild, among the largest ever conducted for a single species, is now in progress. Through a partnership with The American Chestnut Foundation, Unity students are engaging in experiments at McKay Farm and Research Station and through plantings on experimental plots throughout central Maine. All of these many experiments are designed to refine planting protocols and determine the conditions needed for restoration of this ecologically important and culturally significant species to the wild.