Date of Award

Summer 8-27-2015

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Ecology and Environmental Sciences


Kathleen P. Bell

Second Committee Member

Aram J.K. Calhoun

Third Committee Member

Malcolm L. Hunter, Jr.


Many small natural features provide ecosystem services disproportionate to their size. These features are often scattered throughout the landscape, making them difficult to conserve at the typical scales of ecosystem management. Small natural features are frequently located on private land, necessitating coordination between landowners and different forms of governance for conservation efforts. Current conservation methods for small natural features often inadequately account for these conservation issues and therefore offer questionable protection in developing landscapes, but innovative conservation approaches could take advantage of the small size of these features to allow both resource protection and developed land uses on private land. Using vernal pools as a focal system, we utilized economic and ecological methods to improve management strategies of small natural features by increasing knowledge of landowner behavior and the ecosystem services that these features provide.

The economic analysis aimed to improve understanding of how landowner heterogeneity influences management behavior. We utilized a landowner segmentation approach that grouped landowners based on their conservation preferences and identified four unique landowner groupings: place-attached stewards, place-attached managers, passive landowners, and wildlife stewards. We included these landowner groupings as explanatory variables in regression models of landowners’ intended management behaviors. The landowner groupings were significantly correlated with six future management behaviors, including forest management plan and conservation easement adoption and behaviors that support water quality or wildlife habitat. These landowner groupings successfully incorporated landowner heterogeneity into the regression models and improved the explanatory power of the regression models.

The ecological analysis investigated whether vernal pool leaf litter becomes nutrient-enriched from seasonal flooding and whether terrestrial invertebrates preferentially target vernal pools following summer dry down for the enriched litter. We also investigated the impact of human development on terrestrial litter communities by sampling both urban and rural site types. We found that vernal pool leaf litter was less nutritious than terrestrial litter, and invertebrate communities did not significantly differ within dry vernal pools relative to the terrestrial communities. Human development altered invertebrate communities, with urban sites having invertebrate communities with more diverse taxa but lower populations than rural sites.

This research advances knowledge of landowner behavior, vernal pool ecosystem services, and the impact of urbanization on these services. These findings can help inform conservation efforts of vernal pools in urbanizing landscapes.