Michael Schwartz

Photo of Schwartz, Michael

Michael Schwartz

Adjunct Reseach Assistant Professor of Wildlife Biology

  • Office: USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, 800 E Beckwith Ave.
  • Phone: 406-542-4161
  • Email: mkschwartz@fs.fed.us

Website: http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/wildlife/genetics/index.php


Ph.D. Wildlife Biology, School of Forestry, University of Montana, Missoula MT (May 2001)

M.S. Evolution and Ecology, Department of Biology, American University, Washington, D.C. (Aug 1996)

B.A. Psychology, Colby College, Waterville ME (May 1991)


Research Interests

For the past five years my research has been focused on the fields of population, conservation, and landscape genetics, with an emphasis on research that provides practical answers to natural resource problems. I have tried to combine my molecular ecology work, which often takes place in the laboratory, with a strong field component, as I believe that we derive the best scientific understandings of species and ecosystems through the amalgamation of field and laboratory methods. In general, my research has been centered on the following 4 topic areas: 

Conservation Genetics:
The vast majority of legal actions constraining natural resource agencies involve wildlife. It is not uncommon for a management activity to be halted because of the lack of information regarding a sensitive, threatened, or endangered species. Traditional field studies, while yielding important information on species’ habitat needs are expensive and time consuming, thus novel approaches are required. One recent technological advance that has improved wildlife managers’ ability to make inferences regarding wildlife populations comes from the field of molecular biology. Overall, the rapidly developing field of molecular biology has much to offer the wildlife biology discipline, thus I focus my R&D on turning population genetics theory and human medicine-based DNA technology
into tools readily available for conservation.
Genetic Monitoring:
One of the principle tasks of many wildlife managers is to understand changes in wildlife
population metrics (e.g., abundance, survival) as a function of changes in natural conditions or management actions. Most of these population metrics are difficult to obtain for wildlife species,
thus crude indices are often used. The field of genetic monitoring has much to offer, as genetic indices are relatively simple to obtain and have been shown to be a strong reflection of population change. The benefit from genetic monitoring is partially due to the fact that genetic samples can be collected non-invasively. Thus, it is now possible to obtain precise estimates of wildlife abundance and other commonly used wildlife metrics for traditionally difficult to study species over multiple
time periods. Currently, I am collaborating with Dr. Fred Allendorf [LINK: http://dbs.umt.edu/people/faculty/facultydetail.aspx?id=873] on a NCEAS / NESCENT sponsored project to better understand the power and limitations of genetic monitoring in wild populations.
Landscape Genetics
I have been interested in the statistical integration of landscape ecology principles and population genetic metrics as they fuse into the new field of landscape genetics. Landscape genetics provides new ways to more precisely define animal movements, evaluate corridors, and define population substructure using molecular genetics data. I am currently involved in a long-term, multi-species landscape genetics study in Northern Idaho. Ultimately, using landscape genetic models we will be able to advise management on what patches of land are most valuable for each species, and if corridors in the area function for multiple species, or are species specific. Future work will involve projecting these landscapes forward in light of climate change to assess how genetic connectivity will change.
Ecology of Threatened and Endangered Species
Over the past 7 years I have lead field studies on several endangered species. These field studies have focused on questions related to population demography, behavioral ecology, and habitat use. While these ecological studies are vestiges of my responsibilities prior to becoming the Conservation Genetics Team Leader for the Rocky Mountain Research Station, they are something I highly value; my best natural history and research insights were inspired from times when I collected ecological field data, thus I hope to continue this work.

Selected Publications

Publications (pdfs)