Campus News

Prof researches ways to protect ‘lesser-known’ threatened wildlife

While evening bats and wood rats do not have the same sex appeal to Georgia’s wildlife enthusiasts as the whitetail deer, black bear or even the northern bobwhite quail, their role in the greater ecological picture is of equal importance.

“Historically these lesser recognized creatures have not been studied, nor have they been considered as important as the ‘charismatic macrofauna,’ ” said Steven Castleberry, associate professor of wildlife management and ecology at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “But, when you view them in the scale of the food chain, they play an important role for supporting larger creatures.”

It is for this reason that Castleberry has dedicated his research to the study of some of the lesser-known creatures, or as he refers to them, “uncharismatic microfauna,” like the wood rat and the evening bat.

“The amount of biomass accumulated among the smaller creatures in the wild must always be greater than that of the ‘charismatic macrofauna’ in order for these larger creatures to maintain a regular food supply,” Castleberry said. “Small creatures tend to provide the base of the food web.”

What interested Castleberry most in focusing his studies on smaller creatures is the fact that so little is known about them.

“The lack of study on these lesser creatures means we really do not know the role they play in the greater ecological system,” he said. “They may or may not have ecological value, but we frequently just do not know what their role is.”

Castleberry knew in high school that he wanted to be a wildlife biologist. He very much enjoyed hunting and fishing around his home in Forsyth County. However, after high school, “I just did not have the motivation to attend college until after a few years of building cabinets for work,” he said. While woodworking continues to be a hobby, he knew this kind of labor was not his choice for a career.

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Warnell School, Castleberry went to the University of West Virginia to earn his Ph.D. Upon completion, his faculty advisers at the Warnell School recommended he apply for a new faculty position in their wildlife program. He did, was offered the job and now lives on 40 acres in Madison County with his wife and two young children.

One of Castleberry’s proudest achievements as a professor is more related to the success of his students than his accomplishments in research and publication. For the past three years he has served as the faculty co-adviser for the UGA chapter of The Wildlife Society, the national organization responsible for certifying wildlife biologists and university wildlife programs. And for the past two years, the UGA chapter has been victorious at the Southeastern Wildlife Conclave, a friendly competition of wildlife management skills between all southeastern chapters of TWS, and also selected southeastern chapter of the year in 2005.

“This group of students has had a fantastic run over the past two years,” said Castleberry. “We are extremely proud of these students and how well they represent our program.”