Kevin Buffington NSF Graduate Fellow
Thesis Title:
Predicting climate-induced shifts in burying beetle distributions

Research Advisor:
Dr. Rosemary Smith

Teacher Partner:
Bruce Givens

Degree Sought:

University Department and/or Lab:
Biological Sciences

Research Focus:
I am interested in population and community level ecology.

Description of Research:
Range shifts due to climate change have been observed across many species. Novel interactions between species can be expected as species encounter new conditions, resulting in changes to realized niches (areas species are observed). Temperature, physiology and competition may be particularly important to the distribution of burying beetles (Nicrophorus). I intend to map the distribution of three species of burying beetles (Nicrophorus investigator, N. defodiens, N. guttula) in the East River Valley (ERV) of Colorado, over an elevation gradient. Using a stratified sampling design, I will place baited traps in four cover types (aspen, grassland, sagebrush, wetlands). The relative number of beetles caught at these traps will be used to determine abundance throughout the valley. I will collect thermal performance data, by measuring body and ambient temperatures while beetles are flying, in order to estimate physiological tolerances. Mapping flight performances in relation to a temperature model of the ERV will produce a rough estimate of burying beetles fundamental niche (the areas species would inhabit without biotic interactions). An interspecies competition study at three sites throughout the ERV will be used to determine competitive dominance between the three species. Combining field surveys, competitive ability and thermal performance into a GIS-based model allows for a more accurate prediction of species distributions. With this model I will be able to interpolate for climate change to see how burying beetle distributions will respond to increased temperatures.

One example of how you integrate your research into your GK-12 experience:
I'll have the class do a mark and recapture study of burying beetles as well as give a presentation of my research.

Profile date: September 2009

Kevin Buffington