Scientists & Staff

Laura B.

Laura Blackburn

Operations Research Analyst
180 Canfield Street
Morgantown, WV, 26505
Phone: 304-285-1522

Contact Laura Blackburn


Current Research

Laura Blackburn is a geospatial analyst supporting scientists in their efforts to better understand forest pest invasion biology, spread and population dynamics. She performs spatial, temporal and statistical analyses of large datasets by writing computer programs in R or python. She manages geospatial data on over 90 alien forest pests, and produces maps and other graphics for the scientists' publications.  Blackburn creates websites to provide information on forests and biological invasions. She writes and edits publications focused on invasive species.  In addition, Blackburn studies ecological niche modelling - using MaxEnt software - inputting occurrence data and environmental variables to predict habitat suitability. These predictive models are useful in both ecology and conservation with applications to the study of biological invasions and the impacts of climate change.  With this software, Blackburn seeks to find the climate envelope of the winter moth in its native range of Europe and how this species might establish and spread in the USA.

Research Interests

Blackburn's interests are in landscape ecology and the spatial aspect of a species' habitat - identifying which characteristics of the habitat are important to help drive landscape-scale conservation and restoration. She is also interested in island biogeography and applying metapopulation dynamics to landscape-scale conservation. Blackburn is interested in the migration or movement of species and the factors that might hinder or encourage spread in regards to managing forests along the urban-wildland spectrum.

Past Research

Blackburn's graduate studies focused on the decline of the cricket frog, Acris crepitans blanchardii. She explored some of the proposed causes (habitat alteration, stressors, lifespan issues) for cricket frog declines. Blackburn found evidence of viral infections were found, along with fluctuating asymmetry, higher rates of malformations and higher rates of parasitism in the southern-most site. Paradoxically, this was the site with the greatest population density with estimates as high as 2,450 juveniles.

As a USDA Forest Service employee, Blackburn's research has mainly revolved around the spatial analysis of non-native forest insect pests. She just published a photographic guide to pathogens and parasitoids of gypsy moth larvae and pupae commonly found in North America. This guide aims to assist researchers focused on gypsy moth life-table studies in identifying the cause(s) of mortality in immature gypsy moths.

Blackburn, Laura M.; Hajek, Ann E. 2018. Gypsy moth larval necropsy guide. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-179. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 30 p. https://doi.org/10.2737/NRS-GTR-179.

Blackburn also assisted in the collection and analysis of data related to the invasion of hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) in central Appalachia. This research followed the spread of HWA on the Monongalia National Forest and happened to coincide with the Polar Vortex of January 2014. This study found that the cold snap in that year greatly reduced the growth rate of HWA, but that these mortality effects were short-lived as the population rebounded to previous densities by late summer of 2014.

Tobin, Patrick C.; Turcotte, Richard M.; Blackburn, Laura M.; Juracko, John A.; Simpson, Brian T. 2017. The big chill: quantifying the effect of the 2014 North American cold wave on hemlock woolly adelgid populations in the central Appalachian Mountains. Population Ecology. 59(3): 251-258. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10144-017-0589-y.

Blackburn is on the technical committee for the gypsy moth slow the spread project and some of her research focuses on increasing efficiency of gypsy moth management. The cost of managing this invasive forest pest is mainly in monitoring of the population density and treatment of outbreaks. One of her past studies aimed to limit in the cost of surveillance or trapping by employing ESRI's Network Analyst to provide optimal driving routes based on various densities of trapping grids.

Blackburn, Laura; Epanchin-Niell, Rebecca; Thompson, Alexandra; Liebhold, Andrew; Beggs, Jacqueline. 2017. Predicting costs of alien species surveillance across varying transportation networks. Journal of Applied Ecology. 54(1): 225-233.

One of her first tasks with the Forest Service, was to create a web-mapping site for invasive forest pests. This site, the Alien Forest Pest Explorer (AFPE), was initially created in ArcIMS and started with three species. Directed by Dr. Liebhold, Blackburn created the interactive web-mapping site and a database of the distribution of 79 invasive forest pests. Further analysis of database led to the discovery that there was an aggregation of forest pest invasions in the northeastern region of the US. As technology changed, so too has the AFPE site. In 2012, this site was moved to the Service Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team's (FHTET) Pest Portal and contractors were hired to move the site to Flex as ArcIMS was no longer being supported. Today, we are once again preparing to upgrade the site to its new format as a story map which is projected to occur in Spring of 2019.

Liebhold, Andrew M.; McCullough, Deborah G.; Blackburn, Laura M.; Frankel, Susan J.; Von Holle, Betsy; Aukema, Juliann E. 2013. A highly aggregated geographical distribution of forest pest in

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Last modified: Tuesday, October 09, 2018