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Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

Current Research Projects

The Cofrin Center for Biodiversity is a catalyst for both large scale and small scale research projects. On campus, the Cofrin Student Research Program has provided small grants for over 150 student researchers since 1989. These projects, conducted under the guidance of a faculty sponsor, are conducted on one of UW-Green Bay’s natural areas or affiliated research sites in northeastern Wisconsin. On a broader scale the Cofrin Center provides equipment, staff support, and an infrastructure for externally funded research projects ranging from taxonomic studies (e.g., plant and animal surveys) to ecosystem analysis (e.g., ecological health of Great Lakes coastal wetlands). Since the year 2000, support has been provided through direct funding and cost-share arrangements. Collaborating agencies include the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service, The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian Institution, and National Science Foundation.       

Implementing Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring

PI: Robert Howe   Collaborators: Scientists from 13 other institutions in the USA and Canada
Funding: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Scientists from 14 universities and agencies, including Dr. Robert Howe, Professor of Natural and Applied Sciences and Director of the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity at UW-Green Bay, have been awarded a large grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to systematically monitor the health of coastal wetlands across the U.S. and Canadian Great Lakes.  The grant (EPAGLNPO‐2010‐H‐3‐984‐758) will provide $10 million over 5 years to study birds, amphibians, plants, fish, aquatic invertebrates, and water quality in more than 1200 wetlands in the five Great Lakes and associated waters.  During summer of 2011 Howe and UW-Green Bay graduate and undergraduate students conducted frog and bird surveys in wetlands of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Birder Certification Online

PI: Robert Howe and Jennifer Davis Funding: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Wisconsin DNR

Initially designed for Wisconsin, the Birder Certification Program is a web-based program for testing and documenting bird identification skills for field researchers, students, and volunteer birders. The project now covers most of the northeastern U.S. and is likely to expand to other regions. Students from UW-Green Bay have been instrumental in building the database of recordings and photographs and are part of the ongoing maintenance of the program, which can be found at:

Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey

PI: Robert Howe and Cofrin Center for Biodiversity students and staff, U.S. Forest Service biologists Funding: U.S. Forest Service and Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

Now heading toward its 26 consecutive year, the Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey ( is the longest-running volunteer bird survey in the U.S. National Forest System. This project was originated by faculty at UW-Green Bay and U.S. Forest Service biologists, and it continues to involve a large contingent of UWGB students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Results from the NNF Bird Survey have been used in at least 2 Ph.D. theses, 14 Master's theses, and more than 25 scientific publications.

Indicators of Sustainable Management in the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest

In 2006, The Nature Conservancy, State of Wisconsin, International Paper, Conservation Forestry LLC, and Forest Investment Associates implemented the largest land conservation transaction in Wisconsin history, resulting in the formation of a unique partnership of public and private land conservation. The Wild Rivers Legacy Forest consists of 64,617 acres of forest, lakes and rivers in Florence, Forest, and Marinette counties in northeast Wisconsin, including 48 lakes and ponds and more than 70 miles of rivers and streams. The watersheds of this area eventually flow eastward, contributing significantly to the freshwater quality of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The timber companies own most of the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest and manage it for timber production, but through a legally binding conservation easement the people of Wisconsin own the public access and development rights as well as the right to ensure that forestry activities protect wildlife habitat, water quality and forest health and diversity. In order to ensure the effectiveness of management practices, The Nature Conservancy has enlisted the help of UW-Green Bay scientists in establishing a framework for monitoring wildlife populations at the site. Using tools developed during previous research on Great Lakes coastal wetlands, CCB Director Robert Howe and graduate students are working with TNC biologist Nicholas Miller and others to prescribe a rigorous, quantitative prescription for assessing the ongoing health of the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest ecosystem.

Acoustic Bat Surveys: Assessing Species Status & Trends in Wisconsin

Bats have always been notoriously difficult to study, but technical advances during the past decade have opened new windows into research on bat distributions, habitat preferences, and even migration patterns. UW-Green Bay students and faculty have been involved in several projects aimed at understanding bat populations in northeastern Wisconsin. Under the supervision of Dr. Amy Wolf and Dr. Robert Howe, graduate student (now alumnus) Richard Novy carried out a survey of bats in forested landscapes of northern Wisconsin, assisted by undergraduates Aaron Groves., Gareth Johnson, Maureen Armstrong, and others. The project was funded in part by a Wisconsin DNR Wildlife Research Grant in collaboration with biologists Dave Redell and John White. Students in UWGB's upper level course in Mammalogy learn to use acoustic "bat detectors" in surveying bats on the UW-Green Bay campus during spring. The Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, together with Wisconsin DNR biologists Dave Redell and John White, operates a permanent bat monitoring station on the Cofrin Arboretum that records sounds of the night throughout the year.

Forest Structure and Bird Distributions in Northern Wisconsin

Modeling the distribution and abundance of wildlife populations is one of the most important tools for developing effective conservation strategies. Today, exciting new tools are available for predicting large scale distribution patterns. Cofrin Center for Biodiversity students and faculty are working with scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Forest Service to employ LiDAR (Light Detection and Radar) data for modeling bird populations in northern Wisconsin. Results from the Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey and related field projects are enabling scientists to project population responses to future scenarios such as climate change and alternative forest management policies.

Wabikon Forest Dynamics Plot

The Wabikon Forest Dynamics Plot is a 25.2 ha (62 acre) scientific research area in the Wabikon Lake State Natural Area within the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest east of Crandon, Wisconsin. This ambitious project is funded by the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity through the generous support of The 1923 Fund, with additional funding from the Smithsonian Institution and the HSBC Climate Partnership. The Wabikon plot is part of a global network of forest research sites committed to the study of tropical and temperate forest function and diversity, led by the Smithsonian's Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS). The multi-institutional network comprises more than forty forest research plots across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe, with a strong focus on tropical regions. Principal investigators of the Wabikon Forest Dynamics plot are Robert Howe, Amy Wolf, and CCB Herbarium Curator Gary Fewless, with support from US Forest Service Ecologist Linda Parker and USFS Biologist Steven Janke, who also are UW-Green Bay graduates.

The first census of the Wabikon Forest Dynamics Plot in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest was completed on 15 October 2009, producing a database with 58,658 records representing 48,849 live trees. All trees in the plot have been mapped, tagged, and measured; future census, scheduled at 5 year intervals, will provide information about ecological succession, forest regeneration, and natural disturbance patterns in a typical northern hardwoods forest of the western Great Lakes region. Field crews consisting of students and staff from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay completed the first census during the summers of 2008 and 2009, after a professional engineering contractor (REI Engineering of Wausau, Wisconsin) established the plot grid in October-November 2007.

Although the project is in its very early stages, several publications and student theses already have been produced from field data acquired at the Wabikon Forest Dynamics Plot. Several additional manuscripts are in progress, including a comprehensive "plot book" describing the history of the site, field methods, tree species accounts, maps, and quantitative data from the first plot census. In addition to scientific publications, the Wabikon Forest Dynamics plot has provided field research experience for at least 33 UW-Green Bay students and part-time employment for 22 of these. Science courses at UW-Green Bay have used data from the plot for laboratory exercises and classroom projects. In winter 2009, for example, students from a course in Mammalogy (and others) conducted a survey of mammal tracks at the plot. Applications of results in classroom and individualized instruction will only increase as new and ongoing projects add to the foundation established during this reporting period.

Long Term Trends and Status of Birds in the Western Great Lakes

With funding from the Eastern Regional Office of the U.S. Forest Service, CCB Director Bob Howe and Dr. Gerald Niemi of the University of Minnesota Duluth are working with USFS Ecologist Brian Sturtevant and others to develop a comprehensive profile of bird populations in the western Great Lakes. Data from the Nicolet National Bird Survey and Niemi-led research in western Wisconsin and Minnesota will be used to develop a US Forest Service General Technical Report providing baseline information and recommendations for conservation-conscious forest management policies.

Native Bees of Wisconsin

Dr. Amy Wolf and her UW-Green Bay graduate and undergraduate students have been studying native Wisconsin bees since 2004, supported in part by student grants and equipment purchases from the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity. Wolf and Dr. John Asher from the American Museum of Natural History, published a major paper in 2008 entitled "Bees of Wisconsin (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila)," the first comprehensive assessment of the state's bee fauna since the early 1900's. The collection of bees by Wolf and students is part of the Richter Museum of Natural History and now comprises one of the three largest bee collections in the state.