Dr. Nicola Koper

Natural Resources Institute
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Canada R3T 2M6
Tel.: (204) 474-8768
Fax: (204) 261-0038
E-mail: nicola.koper@umanitoba.ca
Website: Landscape Ecology and Conservation of Songbirds and Prarie Ecosystems


B.Sc., University of Guelph, Ontario
M.Sc., University of Guelph, Ontario
Ph.D., University of Alberta, Alberta


Dr. Nicola Koper holds a faculty position in Terrestrial Ecology at the NRI. Her broad background is in landscape ecology, prairie and wetland ecology, multi-species management, surrogate species, and ecological statistics. Her research has involved a variety of vertebrates, including songbirds, ducks, shorebirds, freshwater turtles, and woodland caribou. The common thread that joins these topics is conservation biology.

Her current focus is in conservation and landscape ecology of prairie birds. Current projects explore conservation and habitat management for songbirds in mixed-grass and tall-grass prairies in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. For example, she is coordinating and managing a multidisciplinary long-term, large-scale adaptive management grazing experiment in southern Saskatchewan. In this study, she is experimentally manipulating grazing intensities in a hierarchical, replicated design to evaluate effects of habitat management on vegetation, invertebrate, and avian communities.

She has also conducted a multi-scale landscape ecology study on ducks, songbirds and shorebirds in the dry mixed-grass prairie of southern Alberta. This project focused on evaluating the conservation value of surrogate species by quantifying the effects of habitat management for ducks on coexisting species (upland and wetland songbirds and shorebirds). She also studied effects of cattle grazing, field size, and adjacency to roads and cropland on the density and productivity of prairie and wetland birds. She applied a hierarchical study design to determine whether the loss and fragmentation of grasslands had a greater effect on bird distributions and productivity, than local habitat characteristics such as vegetation structure and edge effects.

Other current research includes evaluation of the effects of habitat distribution, and disturbances such as logging and fire, on habitat selection by the threatened boreal ecotype of woodland caribou. As part of this research, she has been developing longitudinal data analysis methods for analyzing GPS-based telemetry data.

She has also conducted research on soil toxicity of by-products of the oil and gas industry. Some of this research involved developing non-linear regression methods for analyzing toxicity data. Other research has involved evaluating the environmental constraints on growth of painted turtles, and evaluating bias in mark-recapture population estimators.

She has also held positions on several non-academic committees, including the Scientific Advisory Committee for Nature Conservancy Canada - Manitoba, the Environmental Advisory Committee for the City of Edmonton, and the Grasslands National Park of Canada Grazing Study Design Working Group.

Research Interests

Dr. Koper is interested in research that is theoretically relevant and innovative, but that also directly contributes to environmental and natural resource conservation and management. Her current primary interests are in landscape ecology and prairie ecology. Landscape ecology has particular relevance to conservation, as humans control a great deal of the habitat loss and fragmentation that influences species. She is interested in how the distribution of different types of habitat influences species persistence and productivity. In particular, she is interested in the role of type and distribution of matrix (avoided) habitats in sustaining populations. Much of her work in landscape ecology has been conducted in Canadian prairie and wetland systems, where we know far less about the importance of habitat distribution compared with forested systems. Ongoing landscape ecology projects focus on birds.

North American prairie ecosystems evolved in the presence of disturbances of grazing native ungulates, such as bison, and frequent fire-return intervals. However, both fire and native ungulates have been almost extirpated from these systems. Cattle may present a practical alternative to returning disturbance to the prairie landscape; nonetheless, it seems unlikely that effects of cattle on prairies are identical to effects of bison and wildfire. Dr. Koper is involved in several studies evaluating effects of cattle grazing and natural disturbances on native prairie ecosystems.

She is also interested in multi-species management strategies, particularly using surrogate species. Indicators, umbrellas, and flagship species are types of surrogates, and are frequently used in conservation and management plans. However, their effectiveness has not been sufficiently evaluated. She is interested in all types of surrogates, but focuses on avian species.

An important tool for evaluating the effectiveness of habitat management activities is adaptive management. This term is often misused, however, as it implies a great deal more than simply modifying management in response to observations. Active adaptive management involves applying multiple management scenarios to solve real-world problems, in a scientifically and statistically rigorous manner that allows evaluation of the relative effectiveness of each management strategy. She is currently involved in a long-term adaptive management grazing study being conducted in Grasslands National Park of Canada.

Although her primary interest is in ecology, she has spent a great deal of time developing and evaluating environmental statistics to support her research. Although statistics are a crucial tool for ecologists, the most common methods are often inadequate and lack power. Rather than apply inferior statistics to her research, her approach is to carefully evaluate existing methods, develop new statistics, or adapt existing statistics that are used in other scientific fields, to ecology.

Her research is primarily field-based, supported by statistical modeling and GIS analyses.

Dr. Koper is regularly accepting new graduate students, and frequently hires summer research assistants. Students who are interested in working with Dr. Koper in either capacity are encouraged to contact her.

News Release from University of Manitoba

Potential projects, information for students, and summer jobs

Recent Publications

Curry, C.M., Antze, B., Warrington, M.H., Des Brisay., P., Rosa, P. and Koper, N. 2017. Ability to alter song in two grassland songbirds exposed to simulated anthropogenic noise is not related to pre-existing variability. Bioacoustics. 32 pp. DOI: 10.1080/09524622.2017.1289123 Accepted January 9, 2017

Yoo, J., and Koper, N. 2017. The effects of natural gas well pads and associated roads on grassland songbird reproductive success in Alberta, Canada. PlosONE. 34 pp. Accepted March 7, 2017.

Leston, L. and Koper, N. 2017. Urban rights-of-way as extensive butterfly habitats: a case study from Winnipeg, Canada. Landscape and Urban Planning, 157: 56-62.

Rodgers, J.A. and Koper, N. 2017. Effects of shallow gas development on grassland songbirds: the importance of perches. Journal of Wildlife Management, DOI: 10:1002/jwmg.21210.

Bernath-Plaisted, J. and Koper, N. 2016. Physical footprint of oil and gas infrastructure, not anthropogenic noise, reduces nesting success of some grassland songbirds. Biological Conservation, 204: 434-441.

Koper, N., Leston, L., Baker, T., Curry, C., Rosa, P. 2016. Effects of ambient noise on detectability and localization of avian songs and tones by observers in grasslands. Ecology and Evolution, 6: 245-255. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1847.

Leston, L. and Koper, N. 2016. Urban Rights-of-way as Reservoirs for Tall-grass Prairie Plants and Butterflies. Environmental Management, 57: 543-557.

Pipher, E.N., Curry, C.M., and Koper, N. 2016. Cattle grazing intensity and duration have varied effects on songbird nest survival in mixed-grass prairies. Rangeland Ecology and Management, 69: 437-443.

Sliwinski, M.S., Powell, L., Koper, N., Giovanni, M., and Schacht, W. 2015. Research design considerations to ensure detection of all species in an avian community. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 7: 456-462.

Lipsey, M.K., Doherty, K.E., Naugle, D.E., Fields, S., Evans, J.S., Davis, S.K., and Koper, N. 2015. One step ahead of the plow: Using cropland conversion risk to guide Sprague's Pipit conservation in the northern Great Plains. Biological Conservation, 191: 739-749.

Sliwinski, M. and N. Koper. 2015. Managing mixed-grass prairies for songbirds using variable cattle stocking rates. Rangeland Ecology and Management, 68: 470-475.

Lwiwski, T., Koper, N., and Henderson, D.C. 2015. Differential effects of climate, grazing duration, and stocking rate on vegetation in northern mixed-grass prairie. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 68: 322-331.

Rosa, P., Swider, C.R., Leston, L., and Koper, N. 2015. Disentangling effects of noise from presence of anthropogenic infrastructure: design and testing of infrastructure for large-scale playback experiments. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 39: 364-372.

Moldowan, P.D., Keevil, M.G., Koper, N., Brooks, R.J., Litzgus, J.D. 2015. Growth, sexual maturity, and reproduction of a female midland painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) afflicted with kyphosis. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 14:157-160.

Bleho, B.I., Koper, N., Borkowsky, C.L., and Hamel, C.D. 2015. Effects of Weather and Land Management on the Western Prairie Fringed-orchid (Platanthera praeclara) at the Northern Limit of its Range in Manitoba, Canada. American Midland Naturalist, 174:191-203.

Leston, L., Koper, N., and Rosa, P. 2015. Perceptibility of prairie songbirds using double-observer point-counts. Great Plains Research. 25: 53-61.

Koper, N., Molloy, K., Leston, L., and Yoo, J. 2014. Effects of livestock grazing and well construction on prairie vegetation structure surrounding shallow natural gas wells. Environmental Management, 54:1131–1138.

Bleho., B., Koper, N., and Machtans, C. 2014. Incidental take of nests by livestock in Canada: implications for avian productivity and livestock management. Conservation Biology, 39 pp. In press.

Bleho., B., Koper, N., and Machtans, C. 2014. Direct effects of cattle on grassland birds in Canada. Conservation Biology. 28: 724-734. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12259

Wang, X., Blanchet, G., Koper, N. 2014. Measuring habitat fragmentation: An evaluation of landscape pattern metrics. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. 5(7): 634-646.

Bylo, L.N., Koper, N., and Molloy, K. 2014. Grazing intensity influences ground squirrel and American badger habitat use in mixed-grass prairies. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 67: 247-254.

La Porte, N., Koper, N., and Leston, L. 2014. Revisiting the Nesting Ecology of the Western Grebe after 40 Years of Environmental Changes at Delta Marsh, Manitoba. Waterbirds. 37: 30-42.

Martin, K., Koper, N., and Bazin, R. 2014. Optimizing Repeat-Visit, Call-Broadcast Nocturnal Surveys for Yellow Rails (Coturnicops noveboracensis). Waterbirds, 37: 68-78.

Krause-Danielsen, A., Rutherford, P., and Koper, N. 2014. The importance of vegetation structure and artificial cover for prairie skinks (Plestiodon septentrionalis) on exurban land. Journal of Herpetology. 48(1): 67-73.

Henderson, D.C., and Koper, N. 2014. Historic Distribution and Ecology of Tall-Grass Prairie in Western Canada. Prairie Naturalist. Proceedings of the North American Prairie Conference: 40-49.

Richardson, A. N., Koper, N. and White, K.A. 2014. Interactions between ecological disturbances: burning and grazing and their effects on songbird communities in northern mixed-grass prairies. Avian Conservation and Ecology 9 (2): 5. [online] URL: http://www.ace-eco.org/vol9/iss2/art5/

Van Wilgenburg, S., Hobson, K., Bayne, E., Koper, N. 2013. Estimated avian nest loss associated with oil and gas exploration and extraction in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin. Avian Conservation and Ecology. 8:9 (18 pp). URL: http://www.ace-eco.org/vol8/iss2/art9/

Lusk, J. and Koper, N. 2013. Grazing and Songbird Nest Survival in Southwestern Saskatchewan. Rangeland Ecology and Management, 66: 401–409.

De Ruyck, C., Hobson, K.A., Koper, N., Larson, K.W., and L. I. Wassenaar. 2013. An appraisal of the use of hydrogen-isotope methods to delinieate origins of migratory saw-whet owls in North America. Condor. 115:366-374.

Sliwinski, M., and Koper, N. 2012. Grassland bird responses to three edge types relative to display height, resource-use, and territory sizes in a fragmented mixed-grass prairie. Avian Conservation and Ecology, 7 (2): 6 URL: http://www.ace-eco.okoperrg/vol7/iss2/art6/

Ranellucci, C., Koper, N., and Henderson, D.C. 2012. Twice-over rotational grazing and its impacts on grassland songbird abundance and habitat structure. Rangeland Ecology and Management, 65: 109-118.

Baschuk, M., Koper, N., Wrubleski, D.A., and Goldsborough, G. 2012. Effects of water depth, cover, and food resources on habitat use of marsh birds and waterfowl in boreal wetlands of Manitoba, Canada. Waterbirds, 35:44-55.

De Ruyck, C., Duncan, J., and Koper, N. 2012. Northern saw-whet owl migratory behaviour, demographics, and population trends in Manitoba. Journal of Raptor Research, 46: 84-97.

Koper, N. and Manseau, M. 2012. A guide to developing resource selection functions with satellite telemetry data. Rangifer, Special Issue No. 20: 195-203.

Bruinsma, D. and Koper, N. 2012. Review of conspecific attraction and area sensitivity of grassland birds. Great Plains Research, 22:187-194.

DeRuyck, C., Hobson, K., Koper, N., Larson, K., and Wassenaar, L. 2012. Hydrogen isotope methods to delineate origins of migratory saw-whet owls in North America. Condor, 33 pp. Accepted Sept. 20, 2012

Lusk, J. and Koper, N. 2012. Effects of Grazing on Songbird Nesting Success in Southwestern Saskatchewan. Rangeland Ecology and Management, 20 pp. Accepted Nov. 28, 2012.

Koper, N. 2011. Introducing conservation livestock grazing in protected mixed-grass prairies: Grasslands National Park of Canada. In, A Paradigm shift in livestock management: from resource sufficiency to functional integrity. Ed.: Kammili, T., Hubert, B., and Tourrand, J-F. Cardère éditeur Lirac, France. 97 - 115. (invited)

Koper, N., Mozel, K.E., and Henderson, D.C. 2010. Recent declines in northern tall-grass prairies and effects of patch structure on community persistence. Biological Conservation, 143: 220-229.

Barnett, A.G., Koper, N., Dobson, A.J., Manseau, M., and Schmiegelow, F.K.A. 2010. Selecting the correct variance-covariance structure for longitudinal data in ecology: a comparison of Akaike, quasi-information and deviance information criteria. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 1: 15-24.

Koper, N. and Manseau, M. 2009. Generalized estimating equations and generalized linear mixed-effects models for modeling resource selection. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46: 590-599.

Koper, N., Walker, D.J., and Champagne, J. 2009. Nonlinear effects of distance to habitat edge on Sprague’s pipits in southern Alberta, Canada. Landscape Ecology, 24: 1287-1297.

Smith, A. C., Koper, N., Francis, C. M., and Fahrig, L. 2009. Confronting collinearity: comparing methods for disentangling effects of habitat loss and fragmentation. Landscape Ecology, 24: 1271-1285.