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James Fraser

106C Cheatham Hall

B.S., SUNY Maritime (1968) 
B.S., University of Idaho (1974) 
M.S., University of Minnesota (1978) 
Ph.D., University of Minnesota (1981)


With my graduate students, post-docs and other colleagues, I study the population, behavioral, and habitat ecology of imperiled species. My goal is to understand what limits these species, to enhance our basic understanding of biology, and so that conservation interventions may be designed. Recent studies have focused on shorebirds especially piping plovers and red knots, and raptors recently the crested caracara in Florida, but I find all organisms interesting and worthy of study and conservation. Whenever possible, our teams collaborate closely with land managers, which informs our research, facilitates our education, and promotes rapid incorporation of our findings into management practice.

  • Endangered Species Management (graduate course).

Piping plover ecology on the Missouri River.

The Missouri River, thelongest river in North America, is intensely managed with dams andchannelization. This has reduced the amount of sandbar habitat on which thisspecies breeds and rears its young. We have studied the population andbehavioral ecology of plovers on this river since 2000. Key people: DanCatlin, Kesli Hunt, Danielle Le Fer, Meryl Friedrich, Shannon Ritter.Red knot stopover ecology in Virginia. During spring migration, red knotstravel from their wintering grounds as far south as Tierra Del Fuego, to theirArctic breeding grounds. Thousands do their final fueling in Virginia, eatingmostly Donax variabilis and Mytilis edulis. We have been studying thestopover ecology of knots and other species since 2004 to understand the roleof food on stopover numbers and red knot distribution.

Key people: ErinHeller, Sarah Karpanty, Jonathan Cohen, Shannon Ritter.

Ecology of crested caracara’s in Florida. 

The crested caracara is a raptorthat, in Florida nests largely in cabbage palms near improved pastures. Thespecies is a delayed breeder, but until recently, little was known about theecology of the subadults in the population. Thus we have focused on thedistribution, abundance, survival, and habitat use of subadult caracaras. Wealso have been looking at the factors affecting the distribution of nest sites.

Key personnel: James Dwyer, Jen Smith, Joan Morrison, Shannon Ritter.

Response of piping plovers and their prey to habitats created byHurricane Sandy. 

Most piping plover populations appear to be habitatlimited. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy overwash parts of Fire Island, New York,creating substantial new beach areas. We are studying plover response tothese habitat changes. This is part of a long term study of plovers on thesouth shore of Long Island, which started in 1992. In the years ahead, thisproject will closely collaborate with a study of red foxes, a key plover predator,headed by Sarah Karpanty.

Key people: Audrey DeRose-Wilson, Dan Catlin,Sarah Karpanty, Shannon Ritter, Meryl Friedrich, Susan Elias, LarryHoughton, Jonathan Cohen.

Piping plover brood habitat use, movements and survival on CapeHatteras National Seashore.

Cape Hatteras has long been famous in the piping plover conservation arena because of a long-standing conflict betweenthe species and beach driving and is also interesting because it is near thesouth end of the plover’s range. A better understanding of ploverdemographics, habitat use, and movements on the park will inform both ploverconservation there, and our understanding of plover limiting factors.

Key people: Chelsea Weitham, Dan Catlin, Shannon Ritter, Meryl Friedrich.

Piping plover habitat use and demographics on the Niobrara River.

TheNiobrara River, part of the Missouri Recreational River, is one of the morenatural rivers in the Missouri River drainage. Nevertheless, the piping ploverpopulation there has declined in recent years. Our investigation of thepopulation on the river, which will include demographic and habitat studies, isaimed at understanding the reason for the recent decline.

Key people: Meryl Friedrich, Dan Catlin, Kelsi Hunt, Shannon Ritter.

Effects of military and other overflights on coastal birds nesting on Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Cape Lookout National seashore is an important nesting area for many coastal bird. The United States Marines andother organizations fly low over Cape Lookout. The purpose of this projectwas to evaluate the possible effects of these flights. Fieldwork is completedon this project, and we are in the publication phase. 

Key people: Audrey DeRose-Wilson, Matt Hillman, Sarah Karpanty, Shannon Ritter, Meryl Friedrich.

Waterbirds in the Yangtze River floodplain.

The Yangtze River floodplain is globally important waterbird area due to its many lakes and wetlands. Likethe American Midwest, however, many areas have been “reclaimed” foragricultural purposes. In this study, initiated in 2014, we will try to uncover thefactors determine the distribution and abundance of shorebirds in the region.Initial fieldwork has been focused on studying the annual cycle in numbers ofbirds in Poyang Lake, China’s largest lake, and the relationship of shorebirdnumbers to food resources. This is a collaborative project with Nanchang University.

Key people: Wenjuan Wang, Jiakuan Chen, Xioajuan Shen, JebBarzen.

Recent Publications (* = Graduate student report results ofthesis/Dissertation research)


  • Cohen, J.B.*, L.M. Houghton*, and J. D. Fraser. 2009. Nesting density and reproductive success of piping plovers in response to storm and human-created habitat changes. Wildlife Monographs. 173:1-24. Won the Wildlife Society’s best monograph award, 2011.

Other Publications in Refereed Journals

  • Friedrich, M.J.*, K.L. Hunt*, D.H. Catlin, and J.D. Fraser. 2015. The importance of site to matechoice: Mate and site fidelity in Piping Plovers. The Auk: Ornithological advances. 132:265-276.
  • Catlin, D.H., O. Milenkaya*, K.L. Hunt*, M.J. Friedrich*, and J.D. Fraser. 2014. Can rivermanagement improve the piping plover’s long-term survival on the Missouri River?Biological Conservation 180: 196-205. 
  • Hunt, K. L.*, N. Taygan, D.H. Catlin, J.H. Felio*, and J.D. Fraser. 2013. Demography of SnowyPlovers (Charadrius nivosus) on the Missouri River. Waterbirds 36: 220-224.
  • Dwyer, J.D.*, J.D. Fraser, and J.L. Morrison. 2013. Range sizes and habitat use of non-breedingcrested caracaras in Florida. Journal of Field Ornithology 84:223-233. Won the beststudent paper award from the Association of Field Ornithologists.
  • Hunt, K.L.*, D.H. Catlin, J.H. Felio*, and J.D. Fraser. 2013. Effect of capture frequency on thesurvival of Piping Plover chicks. Journal of Field Ornithology 84:299 -303. 
  • Derose-Wilson, A.D.*, Fraser, J.D., Karpanty, S.M., and Catlin, D.H. 2013. Nest site selectionand demography of Wilson’s plovers on a North Carolina Barrier Island. Journal of FieldOrnithology 84:329-344.
  • Fraser, J.D., S.M. Karpanty, J.B. Cohen, B. R. Truitt. 2013. The Red Knot (Calidris canutusrufa) decline in the Western Hempisphere: is there a lemming connection? CanadianJournal of Zoology 91:13-16.
  • Catlin, D. H., J.H. Felio* and J. D. Fraser. 2012. Comparison of piping plover foraging habitaton artificial and natural sandbars on the Missouri River. The Prairie Naturalist. 44(1) 3-9. 
  • Dwyer, J. F.*, J.L. Morrison, and J.D. Fraser. 2012. Within-Year Survival of NonbreedingCrested Caracaras. The Condor 114(2):295-301. 2012 
  • Dwyer, J. F.*, J.D. Fraser and J. L. Morrison. 2012. Factors influencing detection of nestingcrested caracaras. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 76: 857–862