Kira Hefty

Past Graduate Student

Conserving Imperiled Species in Highly Altered Environments: Habitat Modeling Tools and Techniques for Adaptive Management

Habitat loss and degradation remains the largest threat to wildlife species worldwide. Kira's research focuses on analyzing current and future habitat conditions for imperiled small mammal species living in environments experiencing extreme change. "A Tail of Two Squirrels": Kira's work follows the story of two species of tree squirrels representing drastically different ecosystems but both facing drastic changes in the physical, vegetative, and climatic components of their habitats. In the hot and humid forested wetlands of southwest Florida, the state-threatened Big Cypress fox squirrel (Sciurus niger avicennia) is currently threatened by heightened hurricane intensity, invasive species, declining habitat quality, sea level rise, and urban and rural development. In the cool mountain air of the sky islands of southeastern Arizona, the federally endangered Mount Graham red squirrel (Tamiasciurus fremonti grahamensis) is primarily threatened by heightened wildfire intensity, bark beetle infestation, and drought. Kira uses data she collects in the field, satellite imagery, climate projections, and mathematical modeling techniques to estimate where these unique species occur now, how environmental disturbances have impacted where they occur, and where they might occur in the future. Kira's work is highly collaborative and responsive to the needs of local, state, and federal agencies in both localities. The overarching goal of her work is to develop recommendations and tools that will aid management agencies in developing and modifying management actions to better respond to uncertainty and to maintain habitat for these unique species.

Research focus:

1) Assess occupancy and resource use of imperiled species

2) Determine how species adjust to acute and long-term changes in habitat

3) Develop recommendations for wildlife professionals to support conservation and management plans


John Kellam Big cypress fox squirrel


  • MSc. University of Nevada, Reno