Background and Research Interests:
Hey there, I’m Scott, a postdoc with Dr. Ben Zuckerberg and Dr. Chris Ribic. My project at UW-M will focus on reviewing strategies for adapting grassland and grassland bird management in the face of climate change (more on that later), but the path I’ve taken to get here has been somewhat eclectic.
I got my first taste of research studying the molecular biology of Tetrahymena thermophila (a free-living ciliate protozoan) at the University of Chicago, and I discovered my love for ecology when I travelled to South Africa with the Organization for Tropical Studies. I conducted research there on fig trees and savanna insects, then acted on this newfound path to work in the Entomology department at Cornell University. There I helped elucidate the behavioral responses to predation risk of tobacco hornworms and Colorado potato beetles eating tomato and potato leaves.
Realizing my desire to contribute to conservation, I began my Ph.D. at the University of Illinois studying the nest ecology of the dickcissel—an adorable grassland songbird. My work spanned behavioral and landscape ecology as I sought to understand how dickcissel habitat preferences benefit fitness, the mechanisms of habitat selection, and the impacts of invasive plants on birds. In the latter project, I studied the effects of tall fescue—an invasive grass in many U.S. grasslands—on dickcissel nest ecology. But because my study region was predominately used for cattle, I also studied whether cattle avoid grazing this potentially toxic grass to understand whether a conservation goal (controlling a harmful invasive plant) might benefit socioeconomic goals (improving pasture quality).
My motivation to bridge science and practice has drawn me to UW-Madison. I will be organizing a working group of grassland managers and scientists to report the state of the science regarding current and projected climate-change impacts on grasslands and grassland birds, as well as on strategies to mitigate these impacts. Key goals of this work will be to understand which strategies are being tested and to create useful products for conservationists. I’m looking forward to getting started!
P.S. When I am not studying birds, grasslands, and climate change, you can usually find me listening to music, playing board games, painting, biking, hiking, and spending time with my wife and cats (Calvin and Hobbes 😊).
Ph.D., Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2019.
A.B., Biological Sciences – University of Chicago, 2010.
Maresh Nelson SB, Coon JJ, Miller JR. Adaptive habitat selection varies across fitness metrics, spatial scales, sexes, and years. Journal of Animal Ecology, in review.
Maresh Nelson SB, Coon JJ, Schacht WH, Miller JR. 2019. Cattle select against the invasive grass tall fescue in heterogeneous pastures managed with prescribed fire. Grass and Forage Science 74 (3) 486-495. doi: 10.1111/gfs.12411.
Maresh Nelson SB, Coon JJ, Duchardt CJ, Miller JR, Debinski DM, Schacht WH. 2018. Contrasting impacts of invasive plants and human-altered landscape context on nest survival and brood parasitism of a grassland bird. Landscape Ecology 33 (10) 1799-1813. doi:10.1007/s10980-018-0703-3.
Coon JJ, Nelson SB, Bradley IA*, West AC*, Miller JR. 2018. Parental infanticide in dickcissels (Spiza americana): video evidence and a review of potential mechanisms. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 130 (1): 341-345. doi: 10.1676/16-202.1.
Nelson SB, Coon JJ, Duchardt CJ, Fischer JD, Halsey SJ, Kranz AJ, Parker CM, Schneider SC, Swartz TM, Miller JR. 2017. Patterns and mechanisms of invasive plant impacts on North American birds: a systematic review. Biological Invasions 19 (5): 1547-1563. doi: 10.1007/s10530-017-1377-5.
Bright LJ, Kambesis N, Nelson SB, Jeong B, Turkewitz AP. 2010. Comprehensive analysis reveals dynamic and evolutionary plasticity of Rab GTPases and membrane traffic in Tetrahymena thermophila. PLoS Genetics 6 (10): e1001155. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001155