Scientists & Staff

Deahn Donner

Project Leader / Landscape Ecologist
5985 Highway K
Rhinelander, WI, 54501-9128
Phone: 715-362-1146

Contact Deahn Donner

Current Research

The primary goal of the scientist's research program is to develop an understanding of large-scale spatial and temporal relationships required to manage and restore habitat to conserve wildlife populations. Her research program spans three major themes including spatial ecology and conservation of populations, bioenergy and biodiversity, and landscape restoration of pine barrens and northern dry forests. Given the rate of habitat transformation occurring worldwide, increasing land use pressures, and multiple use direction of the agency, strategic planning for wildlife conservation programs across broader geographic regions will become the standard rather than the exception as increasing numbers of populations become smaller and more isolated. The vulnerability of these remaining populations is compounded by changing environmental conditions. Each species is exposed to and sensitive to these factors differentially, so broad conclusions are not always transferrable across species, or across a species range. Traditional small-scale studies cannot provide the large-scale information needed to determine patterns of adaptive ability to changing conditions, nor how to ensure populations remain functionally connected (i.e., successful breeding) across complex, spatially heterogeneous landscapes. The scientist applies metapopulation, biogeography, movement ecology, landscape ecology, and landscape genetic theoretical frameworks to problems. In addition, the use of forest-based bioenergy is an important component of our national energy strategy. Scaling up these alternative sources of energy from local to regional or national programs remains challenging as well as determining the impacts of biomass to wildlife populations. Last, fire suppression combined with succession has drastically reduced historically open barren and savannah systems, particularly pine barrens and northern dry forest ecosystems in the Lake States region. These systems provide important habitat to many native pollinators that are facing declines.

Specific research projects focus on (1) bat movement ecology and the secondary effects of White-Nose Syndrome, (2) using forest management to mitigate effects of climate change on moose in Minnesota, (3) spatial ecology and Kirtland's Warbler population recovery and conservation, (3) (4) wood turtle movement patterns using landscape genetic approaches, (5) using eDNA to monitor and model habitat occupancy for rare species such as the Lake Sturgeon, (6) assessing forest biodiversity sustainability in northeast United States under various biofuel harvesting scenarios of the 2016 Billion Ton Report, and (7) using fire and silvicultural treatments to optimize barrens and northern dry forest restoration.

Research Interests

Conservation and restoration of open lands and early succession habitats and the species that rely on these systems; applying metapopulation, island biogeography, and fragmentation theory to answer critical questions associated with impacts of large-scale land use and cover changes from forest management and human development; using a landscape genetics approach to investigate influence of landscape pattern on population processes

Why This Research is Important

Our Nation's forests and grasslands are natural assets that provide goods and services vital to human health and livelihood. The rate and magnitude of ecological changes brought on by human activity, changing climates, and natural disturbances are increasing rapidly and creating novel conditions within which forest managers must operate to sustain the ecosystem services their lands provide. Landscapes are being modified by shifting land uses, unprecedented environmental conditions, altered fire regimes, pollution, and large-scale insect and disease outbreaks. Understanding the cumulative effects of these processes requires a landscape perspective that integrates time, space and scale. Scale is recognized as a critical concept in ecology.  Ecological problems often exist over decades and large ecosystems, but important variables that drive spatial patterns and processes are often measured in small areas or over short periods of time. Moreover, the most pressing land management issues of our day (e.g., timber harvesting, environmental quality, road building, forest fragmentation, and loss of biological diversity) have a spatial component and cannot be resolved by considering them at a single scale. Sustaining our forests and grasslands to be resilient and adaptive in a changing world and improving forest conditions  are both desired outcomes of forest management that will also provide necessary wildlife habitat.


  • University of Wisconsin - Gaylord Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies - Madison, WI, Ph.D. Environmental Studies, 2007
  • University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, M.S. Wildlife Ecology, 1997
  • University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, B.S. Wildlife Ecology, 1988

Professional Experience

  • Research Landscape Ecologist and Project Leader, Northern Research Station 2009 - Current
  • Wildlife Biologist, Northern Research Station 1997 - 2009

Professional Organizations

  • The Wildlife Society (2006 - Current)
  • International Association for Landscape Ecology - North America (2005 - Current)

Awards & Recognition

  • Inspiring Woman Award - Northern Research Station, 2016 In recognition of outreach and partnerships formed with minorities and research
  • Wings Across the Americas Conservation Award, 2016 In recognition of research-management partnerships on the multi-scale landscape ecology approach for studying the secondary effects of White-nose Syndrome in bats of the upper Midwest.
  • NRS Early Career Scientist Award, 2011 For pioneering the application of spatial ecology to bio-energy and endangered species research

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Research Datasets

  • Headlee, William L.; Lietz, Sue M.; Baumann, Tina M.; Zalesny, Ronald S. Jr.; Donner, Deahn M.; Coyle, David R. 2016. Final spatial and tabular poplar biomass estimates for Minnesota and Wisconsin, USA based on the approach for siting poplar energy production systems to increase productivity and associated ecosystem services. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.
  • Headlee, William L.; Lietz, Sue M.; Baumann, Tina M.; Zalesny, Ronald S. Jr.; Donner, Deahn M.; Hall, Richard B. 2016. Final spatial and tabular data from a process-based model (3-PG) used to predict and map hybrid poplar biomass productivity in Minnesota and Wisconsin, USA. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.
  • Reinecke, Susan; Eklund, Daniel A.; Donner, Deahn M.; Beck, Albert J.; Rugg, David J. 2016. Beaver monitoring data from the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.

National Research Highlights

Young, dense jack pine forests used for nesting by Kirtland's Warblers

A Warbler Recovers from Near Extinction, but Will its Habitat Survive?

Year: 2018

More than three decades of work on restoration of its nesting habitat has resulted in the recovery of Kirtland’s warbler, a bird that flew close to extinction. Can these gains in nesting habitat be maintained under future climate conditions? Model results suggest most jack pine forests within the core breeding range will remain resilient to changing climate, but jack pine distribution will contract elsewhere in the Lake States.

Image 1: Spatial distribution of wood biomass supply through logging residues and whole-tree biomass harvests by county across the United States in 2017 used to assess effects of removal to biodiversity.

Scientists study the potential implications of expanding woody biomass harvesting to forest biodiversity?

Year: 2017

Demand for wood biomass to help meet the nation’s renewable energy needs raises questions about the implications of removing small-diameter whole trees as well as logging residues (tops and limbs) from forests. The U.S. Department of Energy's 2016 Billion-Ton Report, Volume 1, identified a vast national potential of biomass resources that could be available for industrial uses in the future, but what are the potential environmental implications to our forests with an expanded forest biomass production program?

Image 1: Acoustic monitoring device placed in landscapes around Silver Mountain Mine, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan.

How do bats use landscapes around hibernaculum?

Year: 2017

The answer to that question may be key to their survival. Understanding how bats use the landscape during all stages of their life cycle is crucial to helping restore populations that emerge from hibernation in a weakened condition as a result of white-nose syndrome.

Wood Turtle. Joel Flory, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Wood Turtle Habitat Use in Western Edge of Distribution

Year: 2016

Efforts to better understand habitat use patterns of the wood turtle at the western edge of their range is important for range-wide conservation. Forest Service scientists analyzed radio telemetry data from northeast Minnesota to assess habitat associations and space-use patterns and found wood turtles generally remained within 100 meters of flowing water, but they appeared to prefer other aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats when not adjacent to flowing water.

Middle school youth build bat boxes to install throughout school property to increase awareness on bat conservation. USDA Forest Service

Bats and Conservation Education Programs

Year: 2015

Bats provide an important ecosystem services: They are voracious eaters of insects and can eat their body weight in insects every night. Unfortunately, many cave dwelling bat populations in the East and Midwest are declining drastically due to the expansion of white-nose syndrome across the United States. To increase bat awareness among youth, a Forest Service scientists worked with local teachers to give live bat demonstrations, presentations, and instruction on building bat houses through collaborations with local businesses. Students learned how to install houses to maximize use by bats.

Coyote pups in a log den, New York. Robin Holevinski, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Spatial Analysis Differentiates New York Coyotes Between Two Colonizing Fronts

Year: 2015

Coyotes are widely distributed, highly mobile predators that exhibit regional differences in habitat affinities, prey specialization, social aggregation, and movement patterns. Reasons for this regional variability are not easily explained given that coyotes are habitat generalists. Forest Service scientists worked with research partners to identify the contact zone of two colonizing fronts in New York, using genetic techniques to better understand reported differences in coyote ecology across the state. Coyotes in rugged forested regions were found to be genetically different from coyotes in the hilly, mixed agricultural-forest areas of the state. Including spatial data allowed scientists to differentiate coyote lineages that could not be identified through other means.

North American beaver dam on trout stream in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Sue Reinicke, USDA Forest Service

Landscape-scale Effects of Beaver Removal on a Managed Forest

Year: 2014

Beavers and their dams have been removed from Class I and II trout streams within Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest since the late 1980s to restore stream channel integrity and improve trout habitat. A Forest Service scientist and partners evaluated the effectiveness of reducing beaver numbers on managed streams by comparing trends in beaver colony counts using fall flight colony location data from 1987-2013. Although beaver populations declined only on managed streams on the west side of the forest, managed and non-managed streams on the east side of the forest also had declining beaver populations, indicating a system change occurred.

A blue-spotted salamander, woodland pond species, in Wisconsin. Dale Higgins, USDA Forest Service

Scientists Discover Earlier Shift in Peak Salamander Numbers at Woodland Ponds

Year: 2013

Forest Service scientists analyzed salamander monitoring data taken at breeding woodland ponds in the early 1990s to mid-2000s and found that the shift in peak salamander numbers, and site-specific warming air and water temperatures, had occurred two weeks earlier. This earlier shift has not been documented previously in the upper Great Lakes region. Their findings contribute to growing evidence that amphibian populations may be some of the early species responding to changing temperature and precipitation trends by shifting spring movement and reproductive efforts. Awareness of how salamander populations are adapting to these changes will help managers adjust activities during vulnerable periods, and help ensure that monitoring activities do not miss peak salamander numbers in the upper Great Lakes region.

Fine woody biomass (tops and limbs) of northern hardwoods removed post-harvest and stacked for processing, Chequemegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin. Deahn Donner, Forest Service

Effect of Woody Biomass Removal on Forest Biodiversity and Nutrient Cycling

Year: 2012

Findings represent short-term effects and give a baseline for long-term study

Adult goshawk in northern hardwood stand in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin. Forest Service

How Large-scale Forest Conditions Influence Northern Goshawk Nesting

Year: 2011

Efforts to better understand nesting habitat requirements of the northern goshawk, a forest-sensitive species in northern Wisconsin, were enhanced by a collaborative research-management project. Forest Service scientists analyzed 10 years of nest survey data from the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest and found that the key determinant of goshawk nest occurrence was the ratio of conifer cover to aspen-birch cover surrounding a potential nest site.

Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2021