My research interests lie in the fields of amphibian ecology and conservation. I am particularly captivated by the influences of metapopulation dynamics and landscape change on species persistence. My primary professional goal is to produce scientific knowledge that can enhance current and future amphibian conservation efforts. I also hope to strengthen the connection between the scientific and environmental management communities.
In May of 2011, I earned a B.A. in Biology from Kenyon College. My work at Kenyon sought to cultivate a better understanding of metabolic rate in a model organism, the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), through the use of respirometry techniques. In the summer of 2010, I also performed an ecological study at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory testing the accuracy of predictions made by a mathematical model for plant species richness and metabolic rate distributions across a disturbed landscape.
Following my college graduation, I turned my attention towards environmental conservation. I interned for five months with the Eastern New York Chapter of The Nature Conservancy as an Ecological Management Assistant, and became inspired to continue my formal education in science and conservation. I began a Master of Environmental Management (MEM) degree program at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in the fall of 2012. Working with collaborators at numerous agencies, I conducted my master’s research on the use of artificial habitat by the eastern hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) in North Carolina. I received my MEM in May of 2014, and I am currently working with engineers at the University of Missouri (MU) to improve upon artificial hellbender habitat designs.
As a Ph.D. Candidate at MU, I aim to empirically estimate survival rates among juvenile pond-breeding salamanders (genus Ambystoma), for which vital rate data are currently limited. The juvenile life stage plays an important role in the persistence of amphibian populations, and the distribution of amphibian species across landscapes. By using outdoor enclosures, I am comparing juvenile survival rates across multiple species under common conditions. The results of this study will indicate whether survival rates differ between species. If juvenile survival is consistent across species, then available estimates may be more reliably applied as surrogate data to inform management efforts for closely related species for which data are deficient.
I am also investigating how environmental conditions, like humidity and temperature, impact pond-breeding salamander survival in terrestrial habitats. Specifically, I am measuring whether rates of water loss differ between juvenile Ambystoma of different species, and from populations at different locations along a latitudinal gradient in Missouri. I expect that salamanders from warmer, drier southern sites will demonstrate reduced physiological rates of water loss compared to individuals from more northern latitudes. The ability to conserve water in warmer, drier regions may increase the likelihood that salamanders from local populations will survive, and enable these salamanders to maintain reproductive and maintenance activities despite an increased risk of desiccation. My findings will allow researchers and managers to more accurately predict the outcomes of habitat alteration and management on pond-breeding salamander populations.
O’Donnell, K., A. Messerman, J. Barichivich, R. Semlitsch, T. Gorman, H. Mitchell, N. Allan, D. Fenolio A. Green, F. Johnson, A. Keever, M. Mandica, J. Martin, J. Mott, T. Peacock, J. Reinman, S. Romañach, G. Titus, C. McGowan, S. Walls. 2017. Structured Decision Making as a Tool for recovery planning of two endangered salamanders. Journal of Nature Conservation, 37: 66-72.
Mohammed, M., A. Messerman, B. Mayhan, K. Trauth. 2016. Theory and Practice of the Hydrodynamic Redesign of Hellbender Salamander Nest Boxes. Herpetological Review, 47(4) 586-591.
Sears, K.E., A.J. Kerkhoff, A. Messerman and H. Itagaki. 2012. Ontogenetic Scaling of Metabolism, Growth, and Assimilation: Testing Metabolic Scaling Theory with Manduca sexta Larvae. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 85(2): 159-73.