Overall Research Themes

The unifying theme of all of my research to date has been ornithology and landscape ecology, but as of late, the most prominent theme of my research has been effects of climate change on avian communities. In the process, I have worked with several large avian monitoring datasets, which have been gathered over decades across the continent. Thus, most of my research has involved broad-scale analyses of long-term data.

Past Research

I was a postdoctoral-level researcher at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), which is an institution of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. My subject area title was “Landscape Ecologist,” and I worked on Climatic and Anthropogenic Forcing of Wetland Landscape Connectivity in the Great PlainsOur team was investigating the effects of change on wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the central US and southern Canada, in the context of the cascading effects on the organisms that depend on them. We were interested in both climate and land use change in the PPR, as climate change is projected to affect this geographically-diverse region. Similarly, land use change and intensity varies greatly across the latitudinal gradient, which has important implications for future scenarios of both land and climate projections. The U.S. portion of the PPR has experienced a lot of agricultural pressure, which has watershed-level implications in addition to land cover change.

I worked with historic and forecast climate data, land use/land cover (LU/LC) data, and a hydrologic model to investigate and project changes for the PPR. One of my analyses focused on relating hierarchical spatial networks of wetlands in the PPR to mallard (Anas platyrhnychos) distributions, which I presented at the US Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology (US-IALE). I have since added depth to this analysis by using the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) 2011 and Cropland Data Layer (CDL), as well as extended this analysis to more species of waterfowl, and the manuscript is currently in preparation.

I also worked collaboratively on developing plausible weather scenarios to test the response of WETLANDSCAPE (WLS), a hydrology model for the PPR developed over decades and calibrated by field measurements by co-PI’s and various collaborators on the grant. We used WLS to predict how wetland systems will respond to climate change within the region, including spatially explicit predictions from projections of future precipitation and temperature regimes. We aimed to determine how future extreme weather events could affect the PPR by simulating the response of the complex of wetlands that has been used to calibrate the daily hydrology models. Specifically, we were interested in changes to and the related implications of vegetative cover cycling and wetland stage throughout the spring/summer periods, which are important to breeding biota in the region.

M.S. Thesis

I conducted research on avian communities of golf courses of the Beaufort County, SC sea island complex, where golf courses are a predominant land cover class (i.e. there were > 50 18-hole golf courses in the coastal zone of the county alone). My field work involved point counts and nest searching targeting painted buntings (Passerina ciris). We were interested in how landscape composition and configuration affected avian community metrics, with potential guidance for golf course development and management of out-of-play areas on a given course (J. Gorzo, 2012).

My MS work at Clemson is available online:

Gorzo, Jessica, “Avian Communities and Landscape Characteristics of Golf Courses Within the Beaufort County Sea Island Complex” (2012). All Theses.Paper 1314.

Ph.D. Dissertation

My dissertation was funded by the NASA Biodiversity Program via the Climate and Biological Response funding opportunity (NNH10ZDA001N-BIOCLIM). The grant I worked under was entitled “Effects of Extreme Climate Events on Avian Demographics: The Role of Refugia in Mitigating Climate Change,” and my co-advisers were co-PI’s. My dissertation broadly investigated the response of birds to climate variability in within the coterminous U.S., utilizing Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data. I focused on the U.S. central grasslands bird community because of the dependence of indwelling organisms on a strongly climate- and weather-driven ecosystem. My second chapter is in prep. for re-submission and my third chapter is being merged with one of the analyses I’m working on for my current postdoc position. My current research is strongly related to my third dissertation chapter, which investigated the relationship between weather and land cover co-variates to waterfowl populations in the North American Prairie Pothole Region (PPR).

Here’s my dissertation:

Gorzo, Jessica Marie, dissertant. Avian Response to Weather in the Central U.S. Grasslands. [Madison, Wis.] :[University of Wisconsin–Madison], 2016. Print.

Of that dissertation, my 1st chapter is published:

Jessica M. Gorzo, Anna M. Pidgeon, Wayne E. Thogmartin, Andrew J. Allstadt, Volker C. Radeloff, Patricia J. Heglund, and Stephen J. Vavrus (2016) Using the North American Breeding Bird Survey to assess broad-scale response of the continent’s most imperiled avian community, grassland birds, to weather variability. The Condor: August 2016, Vol. 118, No. 3, pp. 502-512. (Open Access)

  • Editor’s Pick (Summer 2016)
  • Press Release: “Changing weather patterns threaten grassland sparrows”
    • Science Daily
  • Articles
    • Birding Wire
    • ABA

…and the rest is to come!