I am seeking applicants for a fully funded Ph.D. research assistantship available in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment at Auburn University to study the ecology and management of early successional plant communities for wildlife. Early successional plant communities such as grasslands, savannas, barrens, and shrublands represent a combined 80% of ecosystems that have declined by >98% in eastern North America.

A diversity of taxa, including both game and non-game species, are dependent on these plant communities and have declined alongside them. Although prescribed fire is often the preferred disturbance mechanism for creating and maintaining early successional plant communities, there are several barriers that prevent areas from being burned.

Thus, the overarching goal of this research is to explore alternative means of approximating beneficial fire effects on ecosystems. Specifically, we will use a well-replicated, manipulative experiment to evaluate plant community responses to prescribed fire, soil disturbance, and selective herbicides. This study will be implemented at an operational scale, which should also allow documentation of wildlife use and selection for various treatments.

The results from this study will be highly impactful, and likely implemented by public and private land managers, utility companies, and timber companies to benefit wildlife.
Because a diverse array of wildlife use early successional plant communities, there is some flexibility for the successful applicant to tailor the project to their interests.

At a minimum, the student will be expected to assist in treatment implementation and data collection to estimate habitat suitability of each treatment for select game (e.g., wild turkey, white-tailed deer, northern bobwhite) and non-game (e.g., Bachman’s sparrow, prairie warbler, pollinators) species. The successful applicant will also have the opportunity to interact with a variety of private landowners, biologists, and academics, including Dr. Craig Harper (U. of Tennessee), who will participate in finalizing the experimental design and sampling scheme, and serve on the graduate student’s committee.

Field work will be limited to the Southeast, and housing will be provided. Funding is also available to support a team of research technicians and allow for travel to conferences to present research findings.
The student’s stipend ($25,000/yr) will be paid via a research assistantship and tuition will be waived. Ideally the student would enroll in August 2023, but a January start date is possible. If the student defers enrollment until January, I would prefer that they arrive during the fall semester as an hourly employee to begin preparation for field work in summer 2024.

Auburn University, located in east-central Alabama, is an R1 university and the state’s land-grant institution. It is home to >30,000 students and 1,330 faculty members. Auburn is centrally located within the Southeastern U.S., and is 4 hours from the Gulf of Mexico, 1.5 hours from Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and 1.5 hours from the southern Appalachian Mountains.

The College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment is home to approximately 50 faculty and 150 graduate students. Our building was constructed in 2005 and features state of the art technologies, classrooms, and graduate student offices. Additional resources include the Kreher Preserve and Nature Center (120 ac) and Mary Olive Thomas Demonstration Forest (400 ac), both within a few miles of campus. The Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center is a 5,300 ac outdoor classroom managed by the College, and is a 2.5 hour drive from campus.

Qualifications

  • M.S. in wildlife biology, ecology, or related fields
  • GRE scores are not required but may be provided if available.
  • Strong interest in plant ecology, plant/animal interactions, and habitat management
  • Plant identification skills preferred.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to develop high quality peer-reviewed publications
  • Valid U.S. driver’s license

To apply: Interested applicants should submit the following as a single PDF to Dr. Will Gulsby (wdg0010@auburn.edu ). Applications will be reviewed as received and I will schedule interviews with qualified candidates on an ongoing basis until an applicant is selected.

The last date to apply is July 28, 2023, unless an applicant is selected prior to that date. – 1.5-page maximum cover letter summarizing your interest in the position, qualifications, and experience – Curriculum vitae – Unofficial academic transcripts – Names and contact information for three professional references

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