Rangeland Wildlife Lab at NDSU

Rangeland Wildlife Lab

Dr. Torre Hovick

I am a second year assistant professor of range science in the School of Natural Resource Sciences. My research focuses primarily on native species’ responses to natural disturbances such as fire and grazing in grasslands. I currently advise or co-advise six graduate students of which three are working towards their PhD and three are working towards an MS. Currently, my students are investigating a wide range of wildlife responses to rangeland management that includes everything from bees to bats and secretive marshbirds. Below are descriptions of the research projects that students are currently working on.



Cayla Bendel (MS)

My research focuses on the provision of ecosystem services in rangelands, specifically pollination. I collect bees and identify bee-plant interactions, as well as estimate butterfly densities in rangelands to examine relationships between rangeland management practices and the bee and butterfly communities that provide pollination services. My research contributes to rangeland management but also more broadly to our understanding of ecosystem service conservation.


Katherine Kral (PhD)

Previous research on grassland butterflies has provided a thorough list of butterfly species present in North Dakota and South Dakota. Our research aims to go a step further and provide more information about butterflies in the region. Specifically, we will determine butterfly density for abundant species and occupancy rates for rarer species, including the regal fritillary and threatened Dakota skipper. Density estimates will provide actual numbers of butterflies found in specified areas, and occupancy estimates will allow us to infer the probability of butterflies occupying certain landscapes. Then, we can use that data to determine how vegetation, management practices, and land use effects the number and distribution of grassland butterflies. From our research, we will provide data essential for creating management and conservation plans used to maintain and increase butterfly population on rangelands and grasslands throughout North Dakota and South Dakota, while encouraging additional questions to help us better understand these important insects. 


Craig Marshall

My research investigates the influence of woody encroachment on grassland bird community dynamics. I will monitor bird community diversity and abundance through line-transect surveys and I will monitor bird community demographics by searching for nests and monitoring their survival. Additionally, I will examine how woody encroachment influences the grassland predator community by placing cameras with digital video recorders on nests. This will allow us to identify predators in relation to woody encroachment to see if changes in plant community structure and composition influence predators on grassland bird nests. Overall, this research will inform management of and conservation of declining grassland birds.


Sabine Naber (PhD)

The goal of my research is to find out how grassland management affects plant and animal communities in the northern tallgrass prairie. My fieldwork is taking place in the Sheyenne National Grassland in southeastern North Dakota. I am studying a wide variety of species, including grassland birds, snakes, and prairie vegetation. My main focus lies on their responses to prescribed fire and various grazing practices. Based on my results, I intend to develop practical recommendations for integrating the conservation of native prairie communities into rangeland management plans.


Joseph Orr (MS)

I am looking at how cattail invasion into central North Dakota’s wetlands has effected bird diversity and abundance, in specific 10 secretive marsh bird species.  Not only are we uncertain of how native birds respond to land-cover change via cattail encroachment, but because secretive marsh birds typically occupy habitats with dense emergent vegetation and vocalize infrequently, long term monitoring programs, such as the Breeding Bird Survey, are not as effective at surveying my focal species as they are for other species.  Therefore, I will utilize the call-broadcast survey technique, to elicit responses, and methodology installed by the North American Marsh Bird Monitoring Program, in conjunction with the North Dakota Rapid Assessment Method for Wetlands to generate diversity and abundance of marsh birds, and determine how habitat characteristics influence marsh bird abundance. 


Becky Trubitt (MS)

I study the foraging ecology of bats in rangelands. The first part of my project focuses on the landscape and management drivers of resource use by foraging bats in southeastern North Dakota. Determining which landscape features attract foraging bats and which features they avoid will inform conservation and management of rangeland bats. The second part of the project asks what these bats are foraging on by identifying insect remains in feces using genetic markers. Because many of the bats we expect to see are distributed across multiple biomes, this work provides an exciting opportunity to compare the patterns of resource and prey use we find in this rangeland system to previous patterns found for these bats in forested areas.