Cooperative Research Units
Education, Research And Technical Assistance For Managing Our Natural Resources
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Working with rural students to document swift fox on Nebraska Ranches


July 2015 - July 2018


The loss and alteration of native grasslands has resulted in significant reductions in habitat availability for grassland obligate species such as the swift fox (Vulpes velox). Identified as a Tier 1 at–risk species, swift fox are estimated to occupy 21% of their historic range, but the exact distribution and relative health of swift fox populations in Nebraska remains in question. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Nebraska Department of Roads, and the U.S. Forest Service, in collaboration with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) and Chadron State College (CSC) have begun an effort to document the occurrence of swift fox and identify the anthropogenic and ecological factors that limit their distribution. However, in a state which is 97% privately owned, such an endeavor is extremely challenging because access to land ultimately limits inference about swift fox populations and thereby management efficacy.

Using a unique approach which incorporates landowners in the conservation process we are sending undergraduate students back to their family ranches to survey for swift fox. Many students in range management, wildlife biology, and similar conservation majors at CSC and UNL are from working ranches in Western Nebraska, which presents us with a unique opportunity to allow students to realize their conservation interests on their family lands and assist NGPC, NDOR, and USFS in facilitating the conservation of a Tier 1 species. Our project is training students and working with them to set camera ‘traps’ on their family lands each spring and fall. By surveying for swift fox on private lands we are adding significantly to our understanding of what is limiting this rare species in Nebraska; moreover, because camera traps attract a multitude of species we are documenting and thereby aiding in the management of other species of conservation concern here in Nebraska.

Research Products and Activities

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • Sorensen, A.E., L. A. Alred, J.J. Fontaine, and J.M. Dauer. (In Review). Integrating modeling and course-based undergraduate research experiences. International Journal of Science Education.
  • Sorensen, A.E., L. Corral, J.M. Dauer, and J.J. Fontaine. 2018. Integrating authentic scientific research in a conservation course–based undergraduate research experience. Natural Sciences Education 47:1-10. doi:10.4195/nse2018.02.0004

Current Staff

Federal Staff: 95

Masters Students: 238

Phd Students: 144

Post Docs: 54

University Staff: 239

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 673

Scientific Publications: 1905

Presentations: 4236



  • Joseph FontainePrincipal Investigator
  • Amanda SorensenStaff
  • Michelle LuteStaff

Funding Agencies

  • Nebraska Environmental Trust


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey