Scientists & Staff

Laura B.

Laura Blackburn

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

Contact Laura Blackburn

Current Research

I am a geospatial analyst supporting scientists in their efforts to better understand forest pest invasion biology, spread and population dynamics. I perform spatial, temporal and statistical analyses of large datasets. I use computer programming to develop tools and automate data analysis. I manage geospatial data, including a distributional dataset of over 75 alien forest pests and a geodatabase of quarterly-measured growth of over 15,000 trees. I am skilled in graphic design, producing maps and other graphics for the scientists' publications. I also help write and edit grants and publications. Occasionally, I get the opportunity to get out into the field and use GPS technology to collect sub-meter accuracy of exotic species' locations. I am currently working on a project aimed to minimize the costs involved in early detection of gypsy moth in the state of Washington. I am using network analyst to determine the shortest driving route between traps placed at varying densities.

Research Interests

I am interested in landscape ecology and more specifically in the spatial aspect of a species' habitat and identifying characteristics that make for a viable habitat in order to help drive landscape-scale conservation and restoration. I am also interested in island biogeography and applying metapopulation dynamics to landscape-scale conservation. I would like to learn more about how species move and what factors might hinder or encourage spread in regards to managing forests along the urban-wildland spectrum.

Past Research

During grad school I studied the decline of the cricket frog, Acris crepitans blanchardii. My goal was to explore some of the proposed causes (habitat alteration, stressors, lifespan issues) for cricket frog declines. At the time, the decline front for this species was roughly at the midpoint of Indiana, roughly corresponding to I-70 in eastern part of the state. I chose study sites located at least 15 km north and south of this decline front. At each site, I made a habitat assessment, including interviews of landowners to determine the recent history of the site. Also, I collected animals and recorded population densities, life history stage, size, sex, color polymorphisms and gross signs of stress, including limb and other malformation, limb asymmetry and the presence of chytrid fungus. From a subset of the frogs, I conducted histopathological analysis for indications of fungus, disease and parasites.

I found that cricket frogs reproduce annually and that generations only overlap for about six weeks in late June and July. Also, I found evidence of viral infection, fluctuating asymmetry, higher rates of malformations and higher rates of parasitism in one of the southern sites. Paradoxically, this was the site with the greatest population density with estimates as high as 2,450 juveniles. My data invite a discussion on how to define a decline frong and how to determine population health.

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Last modified: Thursday, October 08, 2015