PhD position studying Eastern Box Turtle and prescribed fire: Amherst, MA

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Amherst, MA
Job Category
Graduate Assistantships
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Position description: Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) mortality during prescribed fire is a management concern in Massachusetts and other northeastern states. Observational and experimental studies have found that individual Box Turtles exhibit a range of complex behavioral responses to fire, and that early growing season fires may be more lethal under normal circumstances. It is clear that the effect of fire is highly variable, and likely to influence populations differently based on habitat, landscape connectivity, population structure, season, fuel conditions, and weather. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), the Massachusetts Army National Guard, and UMass Amherst are partnering to develop a coherent, empirically-informed, locally-tested management protocol for Box Turtles in the context of prescribed fire management in Massachusetts. Therefore, we are seeking applications for a PhD level graduate student position at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. We highly encourage people from historically underrepresented groups or non-traditional backgrounds to apply. The successful candidate will enroll in the PhD program in the Organismic & Evolutionary Biology Department ( and be part of the MA Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit ( Note that the position is contingent upon final funding details. Project objectives: Potential objectives, which are subject to modification based on the successful applicant’s interests, include: ● Gather standardized information on prescribed fires within Box Turtle habitat and fire-related Box Turtle mortalities ● Implement an observational study of Eastern Box Turtles using radiotelemetry at Camp Edwards and adjacent areas during the active season for each of four years ● Characterize and model the behavioral response of live Box Turtles to fire through controlled experiments ● Evaluate the effects of season, fuels, weather, habitat, and turtle position on mortality and injury rates, using “surrogate models” ● Implement standardized post-burn surveys for Box Turtles following prescribed fires- requires flexibility in terms of traveling to and from Camp Edwards with little notice ● Use a spatially-explicit population viability analysis to evaluate the population-level effects of fire on priority populations ● Facilitate—through Structured Decision Making—a workshop with stakeholders to appropriately minimize the effects of fire on Box Turtle population persistence Salary/Benefits: The graduate student will be provided: 1. Research assistantship funding and teaching assistantship funding for at 5 years through the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which includes graduate student stipend (~$32,000 per year for 20 hrs/week), health benefits, and tuition waiver. More information about benefits is available through the UMass Graduate Employee Organization ( 2. Professional development experiences relevant to federal and state jobs but transferable to other conservation agencies. 3. Mentoring, encouragement, and autonomy to ensure that they see and understand how they and their perspectives are vital to achieving the goals of the project. Application: To apply, you will need to submit your application to 2 locations by Dec 01, 2021: (1) Please submit your UMass graduate school application to the OEB program here: (a) More details on the application materials can be found here: (b) Briefly, you will need the following: (i) All official undergraduate and graduate transcripts (ii) A Personal Statement (iii) At least three letters of recommendation (iv) A Curriculum Vitae (v) GRE scores are not considered. (2) Please also send the following materials in a single PDF with the following document name “YOUR LAST NAME-Box turtle app- 2021.pdf” in an email with the subject “Box turtle-prescribed fire application” to Dr. Graziella DiRenzo at (a) The same personal statement submitted to the UMass graduate school. Ideally, the personal statement describes your interest in the position, past research experiences, interest in conducting fieldwork, desire to pursue graduate work, and any discrepancies in your academic record; (b) A curriculum vitae or resume; (c) The contact information (name, position, relationship to applicant, email, and phone number) for three references; (d) Unofficial transcripts You must submit your application to BOTH locations by Dec 01, 2021 (UMass graduate school & emailed to Dr. Graziella DiRenzo) to be considered for the position. Please send questions to any of the project investigators listed below.
Expectations: The following will be considered positive factors in choosing a successful candidate. We do not expect applicants to have all of these qualities and is not meant to discourage applicants. - Evidence of a strong desire to learn (as supported by evidence of superior academic achievement, extracurricular activities, or life experiences) - Interest and/or experience conducting field work - Interest in population ecology and conservation - Interest in box turtle conservation and prescribed fires - A great deal of flexibility (e.g., being called a few days prior to a prescribed fire burn and being ready to travel to Camp Edwards at a moment’s notice) - Creativity (e.g., problem solving and creative solutions to answering objectives) - Practical field skills (e.g., standard auto transmission, GPS, radiotelemetry, fire safety, GIS skills/experience). - Red card and/or previous experience using fire for restoration (formal or informal) is a plus. In addition, the graduate student will be provided training and support to learn and accomplish the following: - Work alongside MassWildlife, USGS, and other stakeholders to accomplish the objectives of this project - Apply and obtain permits and IACUC approval - Collect and analyze data - Perform field work at Camp Edwards in Bourne, MA - Present research findings at quarterly meetings with stakeholders - Prepare at least three manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals Eligibility: - Minimum of a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale (or equivalent) for undergraduate students - Have graduated from undergrad by May 2022 to start graduate school in Fall 2022
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