Scientists & Staff

Deahn Donner

Project Leader / Landscape Ecologist
5985 Highway K
Rhinelander, WI, 54501-9128
Phone: 715-362-1146

Contact Deahn Donner

Current Research

Current research focuses on (1) applying metapopulation, island biogeography, and gradient theoretical frameworks to examine how spatial and temporal habitat loss and fragmentation from changing land-use patterns affect biodiversity, (2) examining how forest management and restoration activities affect large-scale wildlife dispersal, habitat use, and conservation for multiple species groups to better link and integrate empirical evidence with theory, and (3) understanding the impacts of removing harvest residues (i.e., woody biomass) from native forests on biodiversity and other ecological services these forests provide. Several studies are using long-term monitoring and inventory data to determine how local and landscape factors influence populations (e.g., amphibians in vernal pools, beaver colonization events along trout streams across northern Wisconsin). Results have implications to current best management practices. I'm continuing research on the federally endangered Kirtland's Warbler with most recent activities assessing potential impacts of changing climate on the viability of Kirtland's Warblers by linking habitat and population stressors across winter and breeding grounds (i.e., migratory connectivity and full life-cycle modeling), analyzing 25 years of resighting records to determine short- and long-term dispersal movements during time periods with varying amounts of suitable habitat and populations levels, and how landscape factors have influenced brown-headed cowbirds trapping efficiencies over the past 25 years in Kirltand's Warbler Managerment Areas. I am also working with an interdisciplinary team investigating landscape resistance to movement and dispersal of wide-ranging species using landscape genetic approaches. Landscape genetics link large-scale landscape patterns iwth organism movement to determine how landscape features regulate populations. These approaches are being used to study coyote movements in New York, movement pattern of bats among winter hibernacula and summer roost sites, which also incorporates accoustic monitoring to determine movement patterns immediately following spring emergence. Adaptive genetic approaches are being used to determine resistance to White-Nose Syndrome in bat populations of the northern forest: exploring the critical disease-genotype-microbiome link. I continue to look for opportunities to investigate the impact of fine woody debris (FWD; <6 inches diameter) removal on above and belowground community assemblages, especially in rich soils under regenerating northern hardwood stands. Most recent research is assessing changes to butterfly pollinator diversity during a large-scale Northern Dry Forest and pine barren restoration project; primary objective is to determine how long after restoration activities will the butterfly community resemble surrounding barren's butterfly species assemblages, which incorporates the distance and size of restoration activities.

Research Interests

Conservation and restoration of open lands and early succession habitats and the species that rely on these systems; applying metapopulation, island biogeography, and fragmentation theory to answer critical questions associated with impacts of large-scale land use and cover changes from forest management and human development; using a landscape genetics approach to investigate influence of landscape pattern on population processes

Why This Research is Important

Information gained from the bioenergy studies will provide land managers and policy makers with scientific information they need to evaluate the trade-offs of harvesting woody biomass for energy use or converting lands to hybrid poplars against other ecological services. Advances in metapopulation and biogeogrpahy theory within a habitat fragmentation and landscape resistance context (i.e., landscape genetics) will inform local to international decisions on population conservation and habitat resotration programs. Using long-term monitoring data will be applied to cumulative effects models that evaluate forest managment, and also help assess best management practices. The Kirtland's Warbler research will link expected habitat changes as a result in changing climate to short- and long-term population viability assessments that are required to aid conservation efforts of this endangered population. Results will also be applicable to the expanding topic of 'migratory connectivity'.


  • University of Wisconsin - Gaylord Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies - Madison, WI, Ph.D. Environmental Studies, 2007
  • University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, M.S. Wildlife Ecology, 1997
  • University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, B.S. Wildlife Ecology, 1988

Professional Experience

  • Research Ecologist, Northern Research Station 2009 - Current
  • Wildlife Biologist, Northern Research Station 1997 - 2009

Professional Organizations

  • The Wildlife Society (2006 - Current)
  • International Association for Landscape Ecology (U.S. Chapter) (2005 - Current)

Awards & Recognition

  • NRS Early Career Scientist Award, 2011 For pioneering the application of spatial ecology to bio-energy and endangered species research

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Research Datasets

  • Headlee, William L.; Lietz, Sue M.; Baumann, Tina M.; Zalesny, Ronald S. Jr.; Donner, Deahn M.; Coyle, David R. 2016. Final spatial and tabular poplar biomass estimates for Minnesota and Wisconsin, USA based on the approach for siting poplar energy production systems to increase productivity and associated ecosystem services. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.
  • Headlee, William L.; Lietz, Sue M.; Baumann, Tina M.; Zalesny, Ronald S. Jr.; Donner, Deahn M.; Hall, Richard B. 2016. Final spatial and tabular data from a process-based model (3-PG) used to predict and map hybrid poplar biomass productivity in Minnesota and Wisconsin, USA. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.
  • Reinecke, Susan; Eklund, Daniel A.; Donner, Deahn M.; Beck, Albert J.; Rugg, David J. 2016. Beaver monitoring data from the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.

National Research Highlights

Young, dense jack pine forests used for nesting by Kirtland's Warblers

A Warbler Recovers from Near Extinction, but Will its Habitat Survive?

Year: 2018

More than three decades of work on restoration of its nesting habitat has resulted in the recovery of Kirtland’s warbler, a bird that flew close to extinction. Can these gains in nesting habitat be maintained under future climate conditions? Model results suggest most jack pine forests within the core breeding range will remain resilient to changing climate, but jack pine distribution will contract elsewhere in the Lake States.

Image 1: Acoustic monitoring device placed in landscapes around Silver Mountain Mine, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan.

How do bats use landscapes around hibernaculum?

Year: 2017

The answer to that question may be key to their survival. Understanding how bats use the landscape during all stages of their life cycle is crucial to helping restore populations that emerge from hibernation in a weakened condition as a result of white-nose syndrome.

Image 1: Spatial distribution of wood biomass supply through logging residues and whole-tree biomass harvests by county across the United States in 2017 used to assess effects of removal to biodiversity.

Scientists study the potential implications of expanding woody biomass harvesting to forest biodiversity?

Year: 2017

Demand for wood biomass to help meet the nation’s renewable energy needs raises questions about the implications of removing small-diameter whole trees as well as logging residues (tops and limbs) from forests. The U.S. Department of Energy's 2016 Billion-Ton Report, Volume 1, identified a vast national potential of biomass resources that could be available for industrial uses in the future, but what are the potential environmental implications to our forests with an expanded forest biomass production program?

Wood Turtle. Joel Flory, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Wood Turtle Habitat Use in Western Edge of Distribution

Year: 2016

Efforts to better understand habitat use patterns of the wood turtle at the western edge of their range is important for range-wide conservation. Forest Service scientists analyzed radio telemetry data from northeast Minnesota to assess habitat associations and space-use patterns and found wood turtles generally remained within 100 meters of flowing water, but they appeared to prefer other aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats when not adjacent to flowing water.

Middle school youth build bat boxes to install throughout school property to increase awareness on bat conservation. USDA Forest Service

Bats and Conservation Education Programs

Year: 2015

Bats provide an important ecosystem services: They are voracious eaters of insects and can eat their body weight in insects every night. Unfortunately, many cave dwelling bat populations in the East and Midwest are declining drastically due to the expansion of white-nose syndrome across the United States. To increase bat awareness among youth, a Forest Service scientists worked with local teachers to give live bat demonstrations, presentations, and instruction on building bat houses through collaborations with local businesses. Students learned how to install houses to maximize use by bats.

Coyote pups in a log den, New York. Robin Holevinski, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Spatial Analysis Differentiates New York Coyotes Between Two Colonizing Fronts

Year: 2015

Coyotes are widely distributed, highly mobile predators that exhibit regional differences in habitat affinities, prey specialization, social aggregation, and movement patterns. Reasons for this regional variability are not easily explained given that coyotes are habitat generalists. Forest Service scientists worked with research partners to identify the contact zone of two colonizing fronts in New York, using genetic techniques to better understand reported differences in coyote ecology across the state. Coyotes in rugged forested regions were found to be genetically different from coyotes in the hilly, mixed agricultural-forest areas of the state. Including spatial data allowed scientists to differentiate coyote lineages that could not be identified through other means.

North American beaver dam on trout stream in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Sue Reinicke, USDA Forest Service

Landscape-scale Effects of Beaver Removal on a Managed Forest

Year: 2014

Beavers and their dams have been removed from Class I and II trout streams within Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest since the late 1980s to restore stream channel integrity and improve trout habitat. A Forest Service scientist and partners evaluated the effectiveness of reducing beaver numbers on managed streams by comparing trends in beaver colony counts using fall flight colony location data from 1987-2013. Although beaver populations declined only on managed streams on the west side of the forest, managed and non-managed streams on the east side of the forest also had declining beaver populations, indicating a system change occurred.

A blue-spotted salamander, woodland pond species, in Wisconsin. Dale Higgins, USDA Forest Service

Scientists Discover Earlier Shift in Peak Salamander Numbers at Woodland Ponds

Year: 2013

Forest Service scientists analyzed salamander monitoring data taken at breeding woodland ponds in the early 1990s to mid-2000s and found that the shift in peak salamander numbers, and site-specific warming air and water temperatures, had occurred two weeks earlier. This earlier shift has not been documented previously in the upper Great Lakes region. Their findings contribute to growing evidence that amphibian populations may be some of the early species responding to changing temperature and precipitation trends by shifting spring movement and reproductive efforts. Awareness of how salamander populations are adapting to these changes will help managers adjust activities during vulnerable periods, and help ensure that monitoring activities do not miss peak salamander numbers in the upper Great Lakes region.

Fine woody biomass (tops and limbs) of northern hardwoods removed post-harvest and stacked for processing, Chequemegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin. Deahn Donner, Forest Service

Effect of Woody Biomass Removal on Forest Biodiversity and Nutrient Cycling

Year: 2012

Findings represent short-term effects and give a baseline for long-term study

Adult goshawk in northern hardwood stand in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin. Forest Service

How Large-scale Forest Conditions Influence Northern Goshawk Nesting

Year: 2011

Efforts to better understand nesting habitat requirements of the northern goshawk, a forest-sensitive species in northern Wisconsin, were enhanced by a collaborative research-management project. Forest Service scientists analyzed 10 years of nest survey data from the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest and found that the key determinant of goshawk nest occurrence was the ratio of conifer cover to aspen-birch cover surrounding a potential nest site.

Last modified: Thursday, November 02, 2017