Grant to Fund Studies of Native Wildlife

Jésus Rivas

Jésus Rivas

Las Vegas, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands University was awarded a $10,000 grant to research the impact of restoration activities at the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere in New Mexico have had on native wildlife.  

The environmental protection, conservation and restoration division of CITGO, a petroleum company, awarded the research grant to Highlands. Biology professor Jésus Rivas is the principal investigator. 

“Interest in ecology research is growing at Highlands, and this grant helps us continue that momentum with the goal of students producing cutting-edge research that has important implications for restoring biodiversity in New Mexico,” Rivas said. “The grant is about conservation and restoration, but it also has a foot firmly planted in social investment because we’re giving our minority and low-income students applied research opportunities they might not otherwise have.”

The grant will provide funding to purchase wildlife monitoring and tracking tools such as radio telemetry equipment and mark and recapture equipment. In addition, the funding will help purchase laboratory supplies for DNA analysis.

“For snakes, amphibians and other aquatic species at the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere, we will use mark and capture to study their demography and population dynamics. To study mobility in vertebrates like bear near Raton, we will use both direct field observations as well as radio telemetry,” Rivas said.

In 2012, Rivas’ students conducted a variety of studies focused on how native aquatic fauna responded to the removal of the invasive, non-native bullfrog from a section of the Mora River at Wind River Ranch, which became the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge in September 2012.  After removing the bullfrogs, the native leopard frog returned in high numbers.

Rivas said some of the new aquatic and riparian wildlife research builds on these earlier studies, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service providing the needed permits to work at the national wildlife refuge 26 miles north of the university’s main campus.

The university will collaborate with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish on the bear study near Raton, N.M.  

Biology and natural resources management graduate students who will work with Rivas using the new tools for their thesis research include Jennie Guilez, Jose Griego, Adrian Carter, Casey Taylor, Robert Ortega, and Molly Wright. So far, undergraduate biology students Wacey Cochise, Justin Saiz, and Steven Salinas are slated to work with Rivas on their senior research projects.

“We are building future scientists through these kinds of field-based research opportunities. These students will be critical for the environmental challenges facing New Mexico,” Rivas said.