The Avian Ecology & Biodiversity Research Laboratory

The Avian Ecology & Biodiversity Research Laboratory Christopher M. Heckscher, Ph.D.
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Principal Investigator: Dr. Christopher M. Heckscher

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The Avian Ecology & Biodiversity Research Lab (AEBRL) at Delaware State University (DSU) has played a global leadership role in the remote tracking of long-distance migratory songbirds. The AEBRL was the first to use light archival technology (geolocators) to successfully track forest songbirds through dense tropical forest understory of equatorial Amazonia (2011) and the first to use miniature GPS data loggers for the same purpose (2015). Our model species is Catharus fuscescens. The long-term study of the behavioral ecology of  C. fuscescens at White Clay Creek State Park, Delaware, by Dr. Heckscher (AEBRL PI) has been continuous since 1998 and is among the longest running single-species songbird research projects in North America.

The study of ecological connectivity – how ecosystems are ecologically linked locally, regionally, and globally, via trophic interactions and other means – is a primary theme of the AEBRL. Research has focused not only on the ecological link between Mid-Atlantic (Delaware) temperate forests and Amazonian rain forests via C. fuscescens but also how both forest systems are linked with Florida Gulf Coast barrier islands. Coastal ecosystems are internationally important for migratory birds (and other species). In a recent five year study of Florida’s Apalachicola Bay barrier islands, we used stable isotope and blood plasma analysis to reveal for the first time the internationally important role these islands play in the conservation of hundreds of thousands of migratory songbirds entering North America on Spring migration. The AEBRL also specializes in the inventory, monitoring, and conservation of local and regional insect species of concern with a primary focus on threatened forest and wetland species (especially Coleoptera [Lampyridae], Odonata, and Lepidoptera). In particular, inventory of unique or remote natural areas is a primary focus; for example, a new species of firefly was recently discovered by Dr. Heckscher occupying remote and ecologically pristine Atlantic White Cedar swamps of the Nanticoke River floodplain.

Our natural world is experiencing increasing stress from human induced activities such as climate change and habitat destruction.The future of humanity will depend largely on whether we decide to take conservation action and manage our planet’s biodiversity and ecological systems wisely. Through ecological research of natural systems, DSU’s AEBRL is striving to contribute the type of information that is necessary to better understand the many intricate ecological links among our fragile ecosystems. Indeed, the preservation and wise management of ecosystems for future generations will only be achieved if we have an understanding of the important ecological services these systems provide.

Lab Members

Graduate Students:

Armando Aispuro

Nicole Kleponis

Melanie Mancuso

Devin Mendez

Undergraduate Students:

Bria Dixon

Hannah Small

Publications (Newest – Oldest)

Heckscher, C. M. (2018). A Nearctic-Neotropical Migratory Songbird’s Nesting Phenology and Clutch Size are Predictors of Accumulated Cyclone Energy. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 9899.

Ungvari-Martin, J., Heckscher, C. M., & Hobson, K. A. 2016. Inter-annual site fidelity and breeding origins of Gray-cheeked Thrushes in white sand forests of the Peruvian AmazonJournal of Field Ornithology87(1), 55–64.

Lester, L. A., Ramirez, M. G., Kneidel, A. H., & Heckscher, C. M. 2016. Use of a Florida gulf coast barrier island by spring trans-gulf migrants and the projected effects of sea level rise on habitat availabilityPLoS ONE11(3), 1–13.

Heckscher, C. M. 2015. An isolated occurrence of Pyractomena ecostata (LeConte) (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) in the Mid-Atlantic with new records from New Jersey and Delaware. Northeastern Naturalist 22:N35 – N38.

Heckscher, C. M., M. R. Halley and P. M. Stampul. 2015.  Intratropical migration of a Nearctic-Neotropical migratory songbird (Catharus fuscescens) in South America with implications for migration theory.  Journal of Tropical Ecology 31-285 – 289.

Heckscher, C. M. 2015.  Northern range extension of Psorthaspis sanguinea (Smith) (Hymentoptera:Pompilidae) and a record of Psorthaspis mariae (Cresson) from the Delmarva Peninsula.  Northeastern Naturalist 21:N53 – N55.

Heckscher, C. M., S. M. Taylor and C. C. Sun. 2014. Veery (Catharus fuscescens) nest architecture and the use of alien plant parts.  American Midland Naturalist 171:157 – 164.

Heckscher, C. M. 2014. Late-season Patrolling Behavior and Flash Patterns of Female Photuris lucicrescens Barber (Coleoptera : Lampyridae), (21), 72–75.

Heckscher, C. M.  2013. Photuris mysticalampas (Coleoptera:Lampyridae): A new firefly from peatland floodplain forests of the Delmarva Peninsula. Entomological News 123:93-100.

Halley, M. R. and C. M. Heckscher. 2013. A study of interspecific parental care by a Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) at the nest of a Veery (Catharus fuscescens). Wilson Journal of Ornithology 125:823-828.

Heckscher, C. M. 2012. Delaware Photuris Fireflies ( Coleoptera : Lampyridae ): New State Records , Conservation Status , and Habitat Associations 1, (302), 498–505.

Halley, M. R. and C. M. Heckscher. 2012. Multiple male feeders at nests of the VeeryWilson Journal of Ornithology124:396-399.

Heckscher, C. M., S. M. Taylor, J. W. Fox, and V. Afanasyev. 2011. Veery (Catharus fuscescens) wintering locations, migratory connectiv­ity, and a revision of its winter range using geolocator technology. Auk 128:531-542.

Heckscher, C. M. 2010. Delaware Photuris fireflies (Coleoptera:Lampyridae): New state records, conservation status, and habitat associations. Entomological News 121:498-505.

Heckscher, Christopher M., and Charles R. Bartlett.  2004. Rediscovery and Habitat Associations of Photuris Bethaniensis McDermott (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 58.3: 349-53.

CIBER-affiliated Publications:

Halley MR, Heckscher CM, Kalavacharla V (2016) Multi-Generational Kinship, Multiple Mating, and Flexible Modes of Parental Care in a Breeding Population of the Veery (Catharus fuscescens), a Trans-Hemispheric Migratory Songbird. PLoS ONE 11(6): e0157051.

Dr. Christopher M. Heckscher

Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Delaware State University, Dover, DE 19901

Phone: 302-857-6412


College of Agriculture, Science, and Technology