Using Science to Achieve Tangible, Lasting Results

The Nature Conservancy strives to develop and apply the best available science to help set priorities, inform decisions and actions, and measure results.

Strategic Scope

Science Operations:  We are committed to having an effective and efficient Science Program that supports Michigan's mission, vision and conservation efforts. 

Core Services We Provide

Data, Knowledge and Decision Tools:  The foundation of our work is providing the scientific data, knowledge and tools needed to support conservation assessment and planning. We do this by working both internally and with external partners to identify, prioritize and fill critical data and knowledge gaps and develop models and decision tools. For example, Nature Conservancy scientists developed computer models linking conservation practices to ecological indicators on fish community health to help set realistic conservation goals. See Linking conservation practices to ecological indicators.    

Monitoring, Assessment and Planning:  We drive conservation strategies and actions through scientifically rigorous and integrated planning, and inform collaborative adaptive management of the Great Lakes for both The Nature Conservancy and external conservation partners with regular monitoring and assessment. We do this by developing, promoting and employing best practices to identify challenges and goals, prioritize actions and places, develop innovative strategies, and establish key indicators to help track progress  towards outcomes. For example, Conservancy science staff worked with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory and Nature Conservancy of Canada to complete biodiversity conservation strategies, or “blueprints”, for four of the Laurentian Great Lakes. See Great Lakes Biodiversity Conservation Strategies.  

Information Management and Delivery:  We manage and deliver information to support core science, planning, conservation, fundraising and policy activities of The Nature Conservancy and its partners across the Great Lakes. We do this by managing and delivering information in a manner that enriches user experience; fosters sharing, collaboration and efficient flow of information; and tailors information to meet the specific needs of each user group. For example,  through a partnership with the Great Lakes Commission and in collaboration with federal, state, provincial and private sector organizations, The Nature Conservancy is transforming existing data into useful information for the Blue Accounting initiative to support Great Lakes leaders and resource managers as they set shared goals and track progress toward achieving those goals. See Blue Accounting

Science Stories

​Mapping the Distribution of Great Lakes Migratory Fish 

Lack of access to spawning habitat for Great Lakes migratory fish species–due primarily to dams and improperly installed road-stream crossings–puts all migratory fish species at risk. Therefore, mapping priority habitat for migratory fish is fundamental to identifying priority areas to restore connectivity. To do this, scientists are using a sophisticated barrier removal optimization model, called Fishwerks. Read more.

​Identifying AIS Risk in the Great Lakes 

The Great Lakes offer hundreds of potential entry points and pathways where aquatic invasive species (AIS) could be introduced. Identifying the most important places to monitor for new aquatic invaders gives agencies the best chance of detecting and eradicating the invader before it has a chance to spread. That's why scientists are working with agencies and universities to map AIS introduction risk for the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. Read more.

Developing a Vision for Coastal Conservation in western Lake Erie 

Conservation practitioners in western Lake Erie–one of the most heavily altered and stressed regions in the Great Lakes–face tremendous challenges in identifying how to most cost-effectively invest limited dollars for conservation and restoration. To help practitioners make investment decisions, scientists have mapped ecological targets, human well-being values and costs associated with implementing conservation practices to show where focused conservation investments can bring the most benefits to people and nature. Read more.​ ​

Highlighted Projects

Examples of projects to which the Michigan Science Team has contributed:

Tributary Connectivity
Conservancy scientists are collaborating with the University of Wisconsin's Center for Limnology and state agencies to develop an index of importance for migratory fish habitat. See Watershed Connectivity.
Aquatic Invasive Species 
Science Team members are working with state, federal and other partners to help develop an aquatic invasive species (AIS) surveillance plan for the U.S. waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes (Note: still under development). See Aquatic Invasive Species.

Watershed Agriculture 
Conservancy scientists worked with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Texas A&M University, The Ohio State University, Ohio Sea Grant and USGS-Water Resource Division to assess how effective environmental conservation practices are at reducing the impacts of agriculture on tributary fish communities within the western Lake Erie basin. See the Western Lake Erie Basin Conservation Effects Assessment Project.

Watershed Agriculture
Science Team members worked collaboratively with Saginaw Valley State University, LimnoTech, MSU's Institute for Water Research, and the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes to develop a science-based integrated framework and set of decision tools to guide conservation and restoration actions that address agricultural nonpoint source impacts specifically for endpoints in Saginaw Bay. See the Regional Conservation Partnership Page.

Coastal Conservation
Conservancy scientists worked with stakeholders in the western Lake Erie basin to identify areas important for meeting both regional ecological goals and components of human well-being. See Western Lake Erie Coastal Conservation
Migratory Birds 
Science Team members helped identify coastal areas throughout the Laurentian Great Lakes basin that are important for migratory birds.  See Migratory Bird Stopover Portal
Nature Conservancy scientists are facilitating collaborative forest management through participation in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes LCC Forest Conservation working group. As part of that work, we are co-advising a Masters Project team at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment that is developing a story map to help managers understand forest-related values and threats to those values. Science staff are also providing guidance for vegetation analysis at the Two Hearted River Forest Reserve. See Forestry
Southern Fens 
Conservancy scientists are helping monitor long-term water temperatures at Grand River Fen Preserve and also provide expertise on ecological condition of Michigan fens. The River Raisin headwaters, the Grand River headwaters, and the Paw Paw River headwaters support some of Michigan’s finest and rarest examples of fen habitat. See Southern Fens.
Eastern Lake Michigan Dunes 
Science Team members provide key data and information to guide the protection of priority lands for Eastern Lake Michigan preserves, helping to protect the world's largest freshwater dune system. See Eastern Lake Michigan Shoreline.  
Native Fisheries
Conservancy scientists are collaborating with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Central Michigan University to provide expertise and technical guidance on the restoration of spawning reefs in Grand Traverse Bay.  See Native FisheriesNative Fisheries-Habitat Restoration; and Grand Traverse Bay for a video on our reef restoration work. 

Meet the Science Team

Doug Pearsall, Senior Conservation 


Mary Khoury, Senior Conservation Scientist

Matt Herbert, Senior Conservation Scientist 


Gust Annis, Conservation Scientist 
Shawn Weis, Program Director, Blue Accounting

Sam Haapaniemi, Conservation Assocate
Stephanie Simowski, Conservation Associate
Stephanie Hickel, Conservation Scientist
Mauri LIberati, Bailey Conservation Fellow

Anna Urso, Blue Accounting Coastal Wetland Technician

Recent Publications (links included where available)


Neeson, T.M., Moody, A.T., O'Hanley, J.R., Diebel, M., Doran, P.J., Ferris, M.C., Colling, T., McIntyre, P.B. 2018. Aging infrastructure creates opportunities for cost-efficient restoration of aquatic ecosystem connectivity. Ecological Applications.

Egly, R., Annis, G.Chadderton, W. L., Peters, J.A., Larson, E.R. 2018. Predicting the potential distribution of the nonnative Red Swamp Crayfish Procambarus clarkii in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Neeson, T.M., 
Doran, P.J., Ferris, M.C., Fitzpatrick, K.B., Herbert, M.Khoury, M., Moody, A.T., Ross, J.Yacobson, E., McIntyre, P.G. 2018. Conserving rare species can have high opportunity costs for common species.  Global Change Biology.

Milt, A.W., Diebel, M.W.Doran, P.J., Ferris, M.C., Herbert, M.Khoury, M.L., Moody, A.T., Neeson, T.M., Ross, J., Treska, T., O'Hanley, J.R., Walter, L., Wangen, S.R., Yacobson, E., and McIntyre, P.B. 2018. Minimizing opportunity costs to aquatic connectivity restoration while controlling an invasive species. Conservation Biology.


Riseng, C.M., Wehrly, K.E., Wang, L., Rutherford, E.S., McKenna JR., J.E., Johnson, L.B., Mason, L.A., Castiglione, C., Hollenhorst, T.P., Sparks-Jackson, B.L., and Sowa, S.P. 2017. Ecosystem classification and mapping of the Laurentian Great Lakes. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Hall, K.R., Herbert, M.E., Sowa, S.P., Mysorekar, S., Woznicki, S.A., Nejadhashemi A.P., and Wang, L. 2017. Reducing current and future risks: Using climate change scenarios to test an agricultural conservation framework. Journal of Great Lakes Research 43(1): 59-68.

Isely, Paul; Nordman, Erik E.; Howard, Shaun; and Bowman, Richard. 2017. Phragmites Removal Increases Property Values in Michigan’s Lower Grand River Watershed. Journal of Ocean and Coastal Economics: Vol. 4: Iss. 1, Article 5. 

Eanes, F.R., Singh, A.S., Bulla, B.R. et al. 2017. Midwestern US Farmers Perceive Crop Advisers as Conduits of Information on Agricultural Conservation Practices. Environmental Management.

Beletsky, Dmitry, Raisa Beletsky, Edward S. Rutherford, Jennifer L. Sieracki, Jonathan M. Bossenbroek, W. Lindsay Chadderton, Marion E. Wittmann, Gust M. Annis, and David M. Lodge. 2017. Predicting spread of aquatic invasive species by lake currents. Journal of Great Lakes Research 43, no. 3:14-32.

Fore J.D., Sowa, S.P., Galat, D.L., and D. Diamond. 2017. Assessing effects of sediment-reducing agriculture conservation practices on stream fishes. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 72 (4): 326-342.

Allan, J.D., N.F. Manning, S.D.P. Smith, C.E. Dickinson, C.A. Joseph, and D.R. Pearsall. 2017. Ecosystem services of Lake Erie: Spatial distribution and concordance of multiple services. Jounal of Great Lakes Research.

Peterson, M.S., K.S. Dillon, and C.A. May. 2017. Species richness and functional feeding group patterns in small, patchy, natural and constructed intertidal fringe oyster reefs. In D.M. Bilkovic, M.M. Mitchell, M.K. La Peyre, and J.D. Toft (Eds.), Living Shorelines: the science and management of nature-based coastal protection (pp. 383-399). Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Marine Science Series, Taylor & Francis Group and CRC Press. 499p. (Invited Chapter).

Thum, R.A., Parks, S., Mcnair, J.N., Tyning, P., Hausler, P., Chadderton, L., Tucker, A., and A. Monfils. 2017. Survival and vegetative regrowth of Eurasian and hybrid watermilfoil following operational treatment with auxinic herbicides in Gun Lake, Michigan. Journal of Aquatic Plant Management 55: 103–107.

Annis, Gust M., Douglas R. Pearsall, Katherine J. Kahl, Erika L. Washburn, Christopher A. May, Rachael Franks Taylor, James B. Cole, David N. Ewert, Edward T. Game, and Patrick J. Doran. 2017. Designing coastal conservation to deliver ecosystem and human well-being benefits. PloS one 12, no. 2: e0172458.

Christopher, S., Arnold, J., Herbert, M., Mahl, U., Ross, J., Royer, T., Sowa, S., Tank, J., Trentman, M., White, M., and Yen, H. 2017. Modeling nutrient removal using watershed-scale implementation of the two-stage ditch. Ecological Engineering.

Scavia, D., Kalcic, M., Muenich, R., Read, J., Aloysius, N., Bertani, I., Boles, C., Remegio, C., DePinto, J., Gildow, M., Martin, J., Redder, T., Robertson, D., Sowa, S., Wang, Y., & Yen, H. 2017. Multiple models guide strategies for agricultural nutrient reductions. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 15 (3): 126-132.

Marion E. Wittmann, Gust Annis, Andrew M. Kramer, Lacey Mason, Catherine Riseng, Edward S. Rutherford, William L. Chadderton, Dmitry Beletsky John M. Drake, David M. Lodge. 2017. Refining species distribution model outputs using landscape-scale habitat data: Forecasting grass carp and Hydrilla establishment in the Great Lakes region. Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Moody, A.T., T.M. Neeson, S. Wangen, J. Dischler, M.W. Diebel, A. Milt, M. HerbertM. KhouryE. YacobsonP.J. Doran, M.C. Ferris, J.R. O’Hanley and P.B. McIntyre. 2017. Pet project or best project? Online decision support tools for prioritizing barrier removals in the Great Lakes and beyond. Fisheries. 42: 57-65.

 Contact: Doug Pearsall  I  517.316.2259