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NRS
Susannah Lerman

Susannah B. Lerman

Research Ecologist
University of Massachusetts
160 Holdsworth Way, Holdsworth Hall
Amherst, MA, 01003-4230
Phone: 413-545-5447

Contact Susannah B. Lerman


Current Research

My research highlights strategies and tools for reconciling urban development with biodiversity conservation. I use a socio-ecological approach to improve fundamental understanding of key ecological processes in human-dominated landscapes, with a focus on birds, pollinators and ground arthropods. Current studies:
Effectiveness of Pollinator Habitat
As part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Long-Term Ecological Research (MSP LTER) project, research will test the effectiveness of the new state-wide "Bee Lawn" program for transforming MSP into a refuge for pollinators. This research will be useful for managers of the bee lawn program by providing detailed information on optimal soil properties, plant mixes, lawn size, and locations for supporting pollinators. Press release HERE. This builds on previous research in Springfield, MA that tested how lawn mowing frequency can enhance habitat for pollinators and ecosystem services in residential landscapes. See research website for downloadable lawn signs that promote bee-friendly lawn care.  

Population Dynamics of Backyard Birds 
Understanding the demographic responses to backyard bird populations will provide a stronger assessment of relationships birds have with urban habitats. Research investigates annual survival, fecundity, response to predation risk, and how urban heat islands affect physiology. Research strategies include partnering with the public to co-produce science and offer opportunities for the public to participate in research. Part of this research is in partnership with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center's Neighborhood Nestwatch program.  

Wildlife Habitat Models and Decision Support Tools
Rapid habitat assessment tools can increase our capacity to assess habitat potential within the urban forest, evaluate existing habitat improvement plans, and can provide detailed information of habitat requirements. I develop and integrate habitat relationship models into the urban forest assessment tool i-Tree Eco. The wildlife module provides a rapid assessment of the bird habitat potential in the urban forest, evaluates habitat improvement plans, and provides detailed information of habitat requirements.  

Urban Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Residential Landscapes
The integration of environmental and social factors in residential landscapes shape urban biodiversity and human interactions with nature. Understanding how these factors influence wildlife communities, urban green space management and human-well-being can highlight opportunities to strengthen urban stewardship and connections with nature. Research documents long-term trends of urban wildlife communities and human perceptions of wildlife throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area as part of the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) project, and how residential yard management decisions interact with biodiversity and ecosystem processes across the United States as part of the American Residential Macrosystems project. 

Log Landings and Bison: Wildlife Management in National Forests and Grasslands
With the increased pace and scale of active forest and grassland management, identifying opportunities to provide and enhance wildlife habitat becomes key. Log landings, resulting after timber harvest, have the potential for providing ephemeral pollinator habitat. Research as part of the Pollinator Habitat in Log Landings (PHiLL) project investigates different soil amendments, floral resources and growing condition, and how they affect bee communities. The Midewin National Tall grass Prairie introduced bison in 2015. Active applied research addresses whether and how bison grazing improves the diversity of native vegetation and do restored prairies provide suitable habitat for grassland birds.

Research Interests

I translate the application of scientific information into management tools with the ultimate goal of improving the sustainability of urban environments for wildlife and advancing human well-being through reconnecting urbanites with nearby nature. I explore the links between human management of the urban forest (e.g. yards, neighborhood parks and open space) and the health and success of native wildlife populations, and how these impacts subsequently feedback to influence people due to the role of biodiversity in delivering ecosystem services. I seek opportunities to explain scientific findings to varying audiences while trying to facilitate connections between the publics' personal lives and the urban ecosystem.




Past Research




Why This Research is Important

Most people see the urban and suburban landscape as a concrete jungle, devoid of wildlife, but I see potential wildlife habitat that could reverse the loss of biodiversity in urban areas while simultaneously providing positive interactions between people and nature. Given that by 2050 more than 80% of the world population will live in urban and suburban areas, this view becomes an essential tenet in the field of applied ecology, conservation biology and wildlife management. At the heart of my research, I aim to make my work relevant to the end users including environmental practitioners, landscape planners, urban foresters and the public, to more effectively implement change in policy and human behaviors that promote biodiversity.

Education

  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Ph.D. Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, 2011
  • Antioch University New England, M.S. Conservation Biology, 2005
  • University of Delaware, B.S. American History, 1994

Professional Organizations

  • Citizen Science Association (2014 - Current)
  • The Wildlife Society (2011 - Current)
  • Ecological Society of America (2005 - Current)
  • American Ornithological Society (2002 - Current)
    Diversity and Inclusion Committee

Awards & Recognition

  • Elected Member, American Ornithological Society, 2017
  • National Science Foundation SEES Fellowship, 2012
  • Switzer Environmental Fellowship, 2010

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Other Publications

  • Strohbach, M., S.B. Lerman and P.S. Warren. 2013. Are small urban greening areas enhancing bird diversity? Insights from community-driven greening projects from Boston. Landscape and Urban Planning 114: 69-79.

    Lerman, S.B., P.S. Warren, H. Gan, and E. Shochat. 2012. Linking foraging decisions to residential yard composition. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43497. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043497.

    Lerman, S.B., V.K. Turner, and C. Bang. 2012. Homeowners Associations as a vehicle for promoting urban biodiversity: A case study from Phoenix, AZ. Ecology and Society 17(4): 45.

    Warren, P.S., R. Ryan, S.B Lerman, K. Tooke. 2011. Social and institutional factors associated with land use and forest conservation along two urban gradients in Massachusetts. Landscape and Urban Planning 102: 82-92.

    Lerman, S.B. and P.S. Warren. 2011. The conservation value of residential landscapes: Exploring the links between birds and people. Ecological Applications 21: 1327-1339.

    Shochat, E., S.B. Lerman, J.M Anderies, P.S. Warren, S.H. Faeth, and C.H. Nilon. 2010. Invasion, competition, and biodiversity loss in urban ecosystems. BioScience 60: 199-208.

    Warren, P.S., S. Harlan, C. Boone, S.B. Lerman, E. Shochat, and A.P. Kinzig. 2010. Urban Ecology and Social Organization. Pp. 172-201 in: K. Gaston, editor. Urban Ecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

    Shochat, E., S.B. Lerman and E. Fernandez-Juricic. 2010. Birds in urban ecosystems: Population dynamics, community structure, biodiversity and conservation. Pp. 75-86 in: J.A. Aitkenhead Peterson and A. Volder, eds. Urban Ecosystem Ecology. Agronomy Monograph 55, Madison, WI.

    Warren, P.S., S.B. Lerman and N.D. Charney. 2008. Plants of a feather: Spatial autocorrelation of gardening practices in suburban neighborhoods. Biological Conservation 141: 3-4.

    Atwood, J.L. and S.B. Lerman. 2007. Vocal variations in coastal Cactus Wrens: should coastal California populations be protected under the U. S. Endangered Species Act? Western Birds 38: 29-46.

    Atwood, J.L. and S.B. Lerman. 2006. Family Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers). Pp. 350-377 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., & Christie, D.A. eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 11. Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

    Shochat, E., S.B. Lerman, M. Katti, and D. Lewis. 2004. Linking optimal foraging behavior to bird community structure in an urban-desert landscape: field experiments with artificial food patches. American Naturalist 164: 232-243.

Last modified: Monday, April 5, 2021