Mike Elza

MSc Candidate (2016-present)

Studying survival provides insight into how and why the abundance of populations changes through time. Numerous migratory songbird species are declining, yet little is known about the primary drivers of annual survival. Designing and implementing effective conservation strategies without survival estimates is challenging, as it is difficult to know when and where to intervene with a declining population without fully understanding what drives mortality. While tracking how population size changes on an annual basis can be informative, these snap-shots do not elucidate the biological factors that could be driving variability in the estimates or causing the population to increase or decline.

For my Master’s thesis, I am using more than 30 years of demographic data from an island population of Savannah sparrows to investigate how climatic and agricultural factors impact survival. Specifically, I am analyzing how weather patterns during the non-breeding season and agricultural production on the non-breeding grounds affects annual survival. Results from this study will shed light on how a changing climate will impact migratory birds and will help with designing conservation plans to mitigate population declines.

I completed my B.Sc. in Biology and Wildlife & Fisheries Resource Management at West Virginia University in 2015. For my undergraduate thesis, I studied the impact of avian dispersal on American ginseng populations.


Elza, MC, Slover, CL, & McGraw, JB. 2015. Analysis of wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) movement patterns to explain the spatial structure of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) populations. Ecological Research 31: 195-201.

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