People

Principal Investigator

Michael Ward, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois (2004), his M.S. at the University of Illinois (2000), and his B.S. from Truman State University (1995).

Current Lab Members

Michael Avara is the Avian Lab Manager. He received his B.S. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2007) and his M.S. from Southern Illinois University (2013). He supports lab data collection and analysis on the many diverse research projects of the lab. This includes managing the Illinois Motus Network of 17 telemetry towers across the state, working with organizations in the St. Louis Metro East to restore endangered waterbird colonies, conducting field surveys to quantify bird populations at sites across the state, and analyzing acoustic data to help refine understanding of Illinois chorus frog behavior and distribution. He has also helped in design of educational outreach materials that communicate the research of the lab.

Wendy Dorman is a Ph.D. candidate advised by Dr. Ward. She earned a M.S. Biology from Winthrop University and an M.S. GIS from Eastern Michigan University. Wendy earned her B.S. from Eastern Michigan University. Her research explores the influence of intra- and inter-species use of space on species distributions and how these factors can be integrated into conservation applications for migratory avian species. Her current research efforts are addressing questions related to behavioral responses to changing environmental stimuli and their influence on habitat selection and species geographic limits. Find out more on her Linkedin profile.

Gabby Jukkala is a MS student co-advised by Dr. Ward and Dr. Jinelle Sperry. She received her B.S. Biology and Natural Resources from Northland College (2013). She is broadly interested in the applied ecology, demography, and conservation of birds, but especially of threatened and endangered species. More specifically, she is interested in using applied ecological and demographic research to yield practical knowledge and management strategies that can be used for species recovery. For her master’s project, she is researching the intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms of reproductive success of an endangered songbird, the Golden-cheeked Warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia),  at the Fort Hood Military Installation in central Texas. Her focus is comparing how age-related inherent traits and habitat access influence nest success and productivity using demographic, spatial, and behavioral data. She will also be using fecal DNA metabarcoding to investigate the species’ diet. The goal of the study is to help inform the species’ conservation plan and identify additional areas where management strategies could be used to aid in recovery.

Alex Avrin is a MS student co-advised by Dr. Ward and Dr. Jinelle Sperry. She received her B.S. from Colorado State University. She is interested in mammalian carnivore ecology with a focus on behavior and conservation. Her current research examines how carnivores affect the spatial and temporal habitat use of one another and if they are able to avoid competition, and thus coexist, through behavioral changes (i.e., spatial and temporal avoidance). She is further testing the efficacy of several commonly used lures for increasing carnivore detection at camera traps. All of her work is in Fort Hood, Texas. She hopes to improve management of carnivores through a better understanding of their complex community structure and improve future research through a better understanding of lure use. 

Julie Bozzo is a MS student advised by Dr. Ward. She received her B.S. from University of Rhode Island. The area of avian ecology that most interests her right now is migration. Her project will be focusing on Eastern Meadowlark migration and how changes in its habitat have potentially impacted its abundance. Their Illinois population has been declining in recent years. She plans to track these birds’ migrations to see where they overwinter, in hopes that will provide some insight into their decline.  She will be looking at site fidelity in Illinois' breeding population of meadowlarks, in addition to how changes in the landscape have impacted their numbers over time.

Sarah Stewart is a MS student co-advised by Dr. Ward and Dr. T.J. Benson. She earned her B.S. in Wildlife Biology from Clemson University. Her broad interests center around avian biology and conservation, with an emphasis on breeding and spatial ecology of early-successional species. Through the Ward Lab, she is conducting a demographic study on Eastern whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferous) populations in central Illinois, with the goal of filling knowledge gaps for a species typically studied using male-biased survey methods. By monitoring nests and VHF-tagging juvenile and female whip-poor-wills, her research aims to quantify post-fledging survival and habitat use of this species, as well as investigate female activity patterns and home range size during the breeding season. Find out more on her Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahstewart97/) or website (https://sarahhstewart.weebly.com/).

Grant Witynski is a MS student co-advised by Dr. Ward and Dr. T.J. Benson. He earned his B.S. in Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is broadly interested in avian biology and entomology, with an emphasis on the ecology of declining species. Through the Ward Lab and the Illinois Natural History Survey, he is researching prey availability and selection of Eastern Whip-poor-wills in central Illinois. By surveying moths, beetles, and other insects across Whip-poor-will breeding habitat and employing fecal DNA metabarcoding to detect prey species consumed by Whip-poor-wills, Grant hopes to understand how the diets of these cryptic nightjars influence their ecology and conservation. Learn more on his Linkedin.

Chad Cremer is a MS student co-advised by Dr. Ward and Dr. Auriel Fournier. He received his B.S. in Conservation Biology from Illinois State University (2017). He is broadly interested in population demographics, migratory connectivity, species environment interactions, and threats to avian populations to further an understanding of avian ecology and conservation to improve management practices. His project will focus on the migration timing and stopover duration of Sora and Virginia Rails. 

Nicole Suckow is an MS student advised by Dr. Ward. She received her B.S. in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For her master’s project, she will be researching grassland bird stopover habitat use and behavior throughout Illinois. By monitoring the abundance and diversity of grassland birds at various sites, she hopes to gain a better understanding of key components for high-quality habitat to help inform management and conservation planning.

Previous Students and Staff

Jill Deppe is a former post-doctoral researcher who worked with the Trans-Gulf of Mexico, 100-year Bird Survey, and Stopover Ecology of American Golden-plover Projects. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside (2005) and her B.S. from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (1996). Currently she is employed with the National Audubon Society as Senior Director of the Migratory Bird Initiative. For more information about Jill and her current work.

TJ Benson is a former post-doctoral researcher. He earned his Ph.D. at Arkansas State University (2008), his M.S. at Iowa State University (2003), and his B.S. at the University of Iowa (2000). Currently he is employed with the Prairie Research Institute as Senior Wildlife Ecologist and CTAP Coordinator for the Illinois Natural History Survey. For more information about TJ and his current work.

Kirk Stodola is a former post-doctoral researcher. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia (2011), M.S. at Mississippi State University, and B.S. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1998). He is currently employed with the Prairie Research Institute as Associate Ornithologist for the Illinois Natural History Survey. For more information about Kirk and his current work.

Valerie Buxton is a former post-doctoral researcher. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2017), M.S. at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2014), and B.S. at the University of Michigan (2009). Currently she is employed with Wal-Mart as Data Analyst for Global Investigations.

TJ Zenzal is a former post-doctoral researcher. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi (2016) and B.S. from the University of Scranton (2008). He is currently employed with the United States Geological Survey as Research Ecologist at the Wetland and Aquatic Research Center. For more information about TJ and his current work.

Antonio Celis-Murillo was a Ph.D. student advised by Dr. Ward, and he finished in 2015. Currently, he is employed with the United States Geological Survey as Acting Chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory. For more information about Antonio and his current work.

Scott Chiavacci was a Ph.D. student advised by Dr. Ward. Currently employed with the United States Geological Survey as an ecologist with the Science and Decisions Center. For more information about Scott and his current work.

Janice Enos was a Ph.D. student advised by Dr. Ward. Currently, she is employed with the University of Illinois as Adjunct Instructor with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

Ryan Askren was a Ph.D. candidate advised by Dr. Ward and finished his degree in 2021. He earned his M.S. from the University of Arkansas at Monticello and his B.S. from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. He is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Instructor with the Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center and the University of Arkansas - Monticello.

Todd Jones wasa Ph.D. candidate advised by Dr. Ward, and he finished his degree in 2021. He earned his M.S. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and his B.S. from Ohio State University. Currently he is serving as a research associate with the Illinois Natural History Survey. Find out more on his Website.

Alex Di Giovanni was a MS student advised by Dr. Ward, and he finished his degree in 2021. He earned his B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His interests in avian ecology are relatively broad. Currently he is working toward his Ph.D at George Mason University researching brood parasitism and host rejection behavior.

Ian Souza-Cole was a MS student advised by Dr. Ward, and he finished his degree in 2021. He earned his B.S. from Oregon State University. Most recently he participated in the Directorate Fellowship Program with the USFWS, and he is looking forward to a future career with USFWS.

Stephen Tyndel, was a MS student advised by Dr. Ward, and he finished his degree in 2019. He earned his B.S. from Macalester College, Minnesota. Currently, he is a Ph.D. student at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour advised by Dr. Lucy Aplin.

Luke Malanchuk was a MS student advised by Dr. Ward, and he finished his degree in 2020. He earned his B.S. from Rhodes College.

Evalynn Trumbo was a MS student advised by Dr. Ward, and she finished her degree in 2019. She earned her B.S. from the University of Missouri, Columbia. Currently she is employed with the University of Illinois.

Noah Horsley was a MS student advised by Dr. Ward, and he finished his degree in 2019. He also earned his B.S. from the University of Illinois.

Maureen Hurd was a MS student advised by Dr. Ward. Currently employed with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. She finished her degree in 2019. She earned her B.S. from Grand Valley State University.

Cindi Jablonski, MS student. Currently employed with the McHenry County Conservation District as Wildlife Ecologist.

Mark Alessi, MS student. Currently employed with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as the Central Region Manager for the Division of Natural Heritage.

Kelly VanBeek, MS student, 2012. Currently employed with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as a Wildlife Biologist in the Migratory Bird Program.

John Andrews, MS student. Currently employed with the Lincoln Park Zoo as Senior Population Biologist in the AZA Population Management Center. For more information about John and his current work.

Courtney McCusker, MS student.

Brett Dorak, MS student. Currently employed with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as Wildlife Biologist for Region 6.

Jeff Fox, MS student.

Cassandra Wilcoxen, MS student. Currently employed with Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District as Watershed Specialist.

Kyle Van den Bosch, MS student. Currently employed with Army Corps of Engineers as Biologist.