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Katherine Mertes

Research Fellow
B.S., Middlebury College; M.S., Stanford University; Ph.D. Candidate, Yale University

Katherine Mertes is a research fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Conservation Ecology Center. Her research combines remote sensing and field data on environmental conditions with occurrence and movement data to investigate how mobile individuals, populations and species perceive and respond to their environment. She is working with Jared Stabach, Melissa Songer and Peter Leimgruber on the reintroduction of the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) in the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in Chad.

Mertes’ dissertation research evaluated the spatial scales (grains) at which species respond to environmental factors. From 2011 to 2015, she conducted focal sampling surveys and deployed GPS tags on four bird species at several sites in Kenya, and developed a comprehensive database of field-derived and remotely sensed environmental data. Mertes demonstrated that each species perceives and responds to its environment at characteristic spatial scales that can be predicted by species attributes (primarily diet and home range size). Such scales of response define important parameters for research and conservation – such as the optimal size and spacing of study sites, the appropriate resolution of remote sensing data and the minimum effective spatial unit for management actions.
Mertes grew up right outside Washington, D.C., and received her undergraduate degree from Middlebury College in 2004. She earned a master’s degree from Stanford University in 2008, where she used multi-temporal classification of Landsat imagery to estimate forest loss and land-cover change in Southeastern Mexico from 2000 to 2008. Mertes earned her PhD from Yale University in May 2017.