Meet the Great Plains Science Team

We are a team of experts from diverse backgrounds who are dedicated to our program’s mission of conserving grassland ecosystems.

Landscape ecologist Hila Shamon stands on the open prairie in Montana. A camouflage blind tent can be seen behind her, and she holds a hat and a pair of binoculars in her hands.

Dr. Hila Shamon, Program Director, Great Plains Science

Hila is responsible for ensuring the long-term success of the program. Through her role as Program Director, she provides strategic planning, development of interdisciplinary research projects, fostering partnerships and stakeholder engagement. She also works to manage budgets, secure resources and raise funds while carrying out the team's vision and mission in grassland conservation and research. In addition, Hila leads species reintroduction and recovery projects, and long-term research initiatives across the northern Great Plains.

A head shot of ecologist Andy Boyce in the field at the American Prairie Reserve in Montana

Dr. Andy Boyce, Avian Ecologist

Andy plays a key role in studying and protecting the hundreds of bird species that occur in grassland ecosystems. He researches the factors that affect threatened and imperiled species, examines restoration efforts, and works to better understand the effects of keystone species on local bird populations and their surroundings. His work informs the team's efforts to develop conservation strategies that encompass land management, species preservation and overall ecosystem resilience.

A blonde woman in a white t-shirt and a dark-haired man in a beanie inspect the inside of a net.

Dr. Ellen Welti, Community Ecologist

Ellen is a community ecologist with expertise in entomology. Her research focuses on plants, 
insects, and species interactions, the glue that holds ecosystems together. In rangeland systems, she studies the effects of mammal communities, grazing regimes, and management on ecological communites. Ellen also researches responses to alternations to biogeochemcial 
cycles, a hallmark of the Anthropocene.

Smithsonian Ecologist Olivia Cosby on the Northern Great Plains in Montana.

Olivia Cosby, Place-based Conservation Expert

Olivia plays a central role in demonstrating the importance of community-driven approaches towards safeguarding ecosystems and biodiversity. By fostering partnerships with local communities, Olivia works to develop conservation efforts that benefit both natural regions and the people who live in them. 

Jesse Boulerice, Research Ecologist for SNZCBI's Great Plains Science Program

Jesse Boulerice, Species Reintroduction Specialist

Jesse guides the program's species reintroduction efforts and develops strategies that help restore and rewild grassland ecosystems. Through his work, he navigates a delicate balance of ecology, science, technology, politics and policy to ensure the long-term survival of species reintroduced to the landscape. 

Biologist Jessica Alexander of the Smithsonian's Great Plains Science Program clipping grass at American Prairie in Montana

Jessica Alexander, Wildlife Biologist

Jessica leads the long-term monitoring surveys across five bison restoration programs. The work is part of a regional, tribally-led research network that ties bison restoration programs with students from local colleges, with the goal of providing high-quality educational opportunities and training for the next generation of conservationists and scientists. 

Research Fellows

Calla Sopko, Montana State University 
Area of focus: Insect and plant responses to grasshopper suppression programs

Ashley Skartved, Montana State University 
Area of focus: Effects of bison grazing a wallowing on prairie plant communities 

Emma Greenlee, Kansas State University 
Area of focus: Investigating ground-nesting bee habitat in prairies under varied grazing and burning management

Andrew Dreelin, University of Northern Illinois 
Area of focus: Demographic effects of prairie-dogs on nesting grassland birds

Nancy Raginski, University of Georgia 
Area of focus: Understanding the migratory ecology and demography of grassland songbirds with the Motus animal tracking system

Anna Kurtin, University of Montana 
Area of focus: Evaluating ARUs as a tool for rare and cryptic species monitoring

Ashlyn Herron, University of North Dakota 
Area of focus: Using ARUs to evaluate the impacts of voluntary restoration on grassland songbirds

Maya Rayle 
Area of focus: Evaluating how diverse riparian restoration strategies impact biodiversity, productivity and climate resilience in temperate grasslands

Claire Bresnan, Montana State University 
Area of focus: Investigating the mechanisms of collective movement in Plains bison

Itai Namir, Montana State University 
Area of focus: The Impacts of plague mitigation on the black-tailed prairie dogs in north-central Montana

Dana Nelson, Clemson University 
Area of focus: Factors influencing swift fox reintroduction success to Fort Belknap Reservation, Mont.

Johnny Stutzman, University of Wyoming  
Area of focus: The functionality of riparian corridors in prairie ecosystems 

Kimberly Todd, George Mason University  
Area of focus: Translocating swift foxes: Insights on personality, stress, and success