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Chris Rota

Chris Rota and family


Right now I have active research projects with white tail deer in West Virginia, bobcats in South Dakota, Canada warblers here in West Virginia and songbirds in the Monongahela National Forest. Our goal with all this is to understand habitat use and demography of these species and use novel and modern quantitative techniques to address problems.

We’ve learned lots of cool stuff. For example, we’re putting geolocators on Canada warblers. What that does is allows us to track the migration movements of these tiny little birds. They weigh 10 or 11 grams, so we can’t put heavy tracking devices on them. We put little geolocators on them. So these tiny little birds come from West Virginia and go down to South America. Some of them are going to winter in Colombia and Venezuela. They fly all the way back to West Virginia to the exact same spot. We recapture them and get the geolocator and learn about the migration strategies.

Another student is studying the effect of climate change on Appalachian song birds. She’s taking historic data and learning about how land use and climate influence the current distribution of these birds and using that to project how their distribution will change in the future. We’re able to predict the future distribution of several Appalachian song birds.

I’ve had a bobcat project for a couple of years in South Dakota. We’re learning that kitten survival out there is a little bit lower than expected and we think it might be tightly tied to the dynamics of cottontail rabbits out there.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid I really had no idea. I knew that I was interested in the environmental field, but when you’re in high school you really have no concept of what that might entail. So I got my first degree in environmental studies before I went out into the world. After working various jobs, I learned that I liked wildlife conservation and that’s what made me go back to school a little bit later than my other peers.

What year in school was your favorite and why?

It might be my first year at the wildlife biology program at the University of Montana because I was really exposed to the diversity of jobs one could get in the wildlife field, all the cool wildlife you could work with and the cool questions we could ask.


What is something you hope to learn?

One of my big hobbies is I’m a long distance runner. I’m interested in learning how to become a stronger runner without injuring myself - especially as I push 40. I'm an avid bowhunter; I’m always interested in learning how to be better.

If you could go back to school, what would you study?

I love my field. At the same time, if I had things to do over again, I think it could be cool to have studied mechanical engineering or something that would have allowed me to send a rover to Mars or even farther.

What's one class you wish you had taken in college?

As an undergraduate, that’s easy. I wish I had a class on Statistics and R.

What's a dream you have?

I would love to own a huge tract of land that I can hunt the heck out of; that my wife can have a big orchard on; and that my kids can run wild on.

What did you learn from 2020?

I think I learned about the importance of resilience. We were all faced with a lot of setbacks in 2020 and it’s important to be resilient in the face of those setbacks.



Just for Fun

A book you've always wanted to read: Ulysses

Most adventurous food you've tasted: Kangaroo in Australia

Favorite music in college:  Punk rock, heavy metal

Dogs or cats? It depends. My cat's name is Lightning.