Wildlife Ecology Program

Program Overview

NRRI’s Applied Wildlife Ecology Research Program studies direct and indirect impacts of environmental change on wildlife, biodiversity, and ecosystem function. The researchers gather critical data on species of ecological, cultural, and economic importance in Minnesota and throughout the Western Great Lakes Region, including game species and species of concern.

Program Goals

Program goals are achieved by integrating data collected to understand behavior, ecology and status of wildlife species, populations, and communities.

  1. Identify and address current and emerging resource management problems to create solutions that balance economic, ecological, and recreational functions of our natural resources.
  2. Develop economically sustainable conservation strategies and land management guidelines to preserve and enhance wildlife diversity and protect species in greatest conservation need. 
  3. Provide information, expertise, and guidance to resource managers to support resource management decisions.

Program Impact

Wildlife plays a significant role in maintaining ecosystem health, ecosystem services, and plant community stability and forest succession. Changes in wildlife populations and communities can signal larger changes in the ecosystems, providing an opportunity to learn more about the causes and consequences of the changes. 

By evaluating the effects of human activities - including natural resource-based economic activity - on wildlife, this research finds solutions to maintain ecosystem function while supporting economic opportunities.

Expertise and Unique Strengths

Along with a 30-plus year track record of region - and state-specific expertise on birds and mammals, this program has an equally long history of performance, delivery and expertise on issues of state, regional and continental importance. Duluth, Minn., is also the epicenter of mid-continent bird migration.

Stakeholders and Partners

This program engages diverse stakeholders and partners, using established and novel approaches to address key research questions. Partnerships are critical for successful project delivery. Project outcomes are of broad public interest and value given the importance of wildlife conservation to many different user groups. 

Recent Projects and Partners

Expand all

Recent Projects and Partners

Recent Projects and Partners

Recent Partnerships & Research Examples

Forest Fishers Den Box Project to guide management of fishers (including habitat management) and bobcats; and to learn more about a species of cultural/tribal and ecological importance.

Partners include:

Wildlife-Mycorrhizal Fungi-Forest Health Project to better understand how to manage wildlife and habitats to enhance forest resilience via dispersal of mycorrhizal fungi. 

Partners include: 

  • Wisconsin DNR
  • Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe 
  • US Forest Service Northern Research Station 

Marten Thermal Ecology and Climate Change Project: This is a deep evaluation of martens sensitivity to changing snow conditions, capacity for adaptation and opportunities for management to mitigate climate risks. This research is important to regional tribes for whom martens are culturally important as a clan animal.  

Partners include: 

  • Grand Valley State University
  • Little River Band of Ottawa Indians
  • Minnesota DNR
  • Polish Academy of Sciences/Mammal Research Institute. 

Study of Carnivore Expansion to SE Minnesota: This project has high public interest and value due to: 1) the growing presence of these charismatic species where they have previously been absent for decades, 2) concern over effects on game species and pets, and 3) management considerations as DNR considers extending harvest to SE Minnesota.

Trail Cameras Study: A novel adoption of methods to manage and analyze high volumes of trail camera data. This holds potential for future opportunities in citizen-science projects using trail cameras.


Portrait of a man
Senior Research Staff Scientist, Wildlife Ecologist
profile photo annie bracey
Avian Ecologist
Head and shoulder picture of a woman.
Wildlife Ecologist
Head and shoulders photo of a man
Wildlife Ecologist
Avian Ecologist
Wildlife Ecologist
Senior Research Associate and Assoc. Professor

Featured Research Projects

A study of habitat and survival rates of species in decline to inform forest management practices.

Use a combination of wildlife, vegetation, and hydrology (water) measurements to determine the impacts of logging on peatland forests.

The Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas documents the distribution of every breeding bird species in Minnesota and provides a solid foundation for future conservation efforts.

The Minnesota Fisher Den Box Project is focused on evaluating an emerging habitat management tool to address the declining MN fisher population.

Documenting long-term population trends of breeding forest birds in the Chippewa and Superior National Forests.

The goal of this project was to develop a model that predicts potential beaver dam locations based on stream channel, watershed and habitat characteristics.

Related News

Blue and white bird sits on a nesting box.

NRRI research underway to understand availability of flying insects impact to bird populations.

Aerial view of Camp Ripley

NRRI study maps conservation opportunities for Camp Ripley Sentinal Landscape in face of climate change.

Group of people stand talking in a forest setting.

NRRI leaders join U.S. contingent on field trip to Finland to share, learn and collaborate.

A man takes wire nets out of a box in a storage area.

NRRI technicians travel far and wide to get the data that informs the research. 

Pine marten study underway compares difference between two habitats and impact on species.

Research effort to provide artificial tree cavities attracted some fishers, other wildlife; expanded project will study predators

Northwoods bobcats and fishers research leads recent graduate Nate Weisenbeck to sea turtles on Florida beaches.

Wandering bird lover settles at NRRI’s Avian Ecology Lab to grow understanding of bird migration and habitat

MnDOT funding seeks to understand true number of incidents in Minnesota to save money, wildlife and human injuries.

Ron Moen's long wildlife career has taken him on a 26-year walk on the wild side.

Media Coverage