Taza Schaming is a Ph.D. student at Cornell University in the Department of Natural Resources and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. She holds a M.S. in natural resources from Cornell University, and a B.S. in biology from Tufts University. For her dissertation research, Taza is studying the impact of whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) mortality on Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) demography and habitat use in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In the past few years, Clark's Nutcrackers have virtually disappeared from large parts of their range, including Glacier National Park in northern Montana. The likely cause of their declines is their mutualism with whitebark pine, which has suffered massive die-offs due to the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic and infections from blister rust, an invasive pathogen. Taza is studying a population of Clark's Nutcrackers in Bridger-Teton National Forest, where the birds are still relatively abundant. She is radio tracking and surveying birds to study movement, habitat use, and foraging and social behavior. Her ultimate goal is to design biologically informed management interventions to help ensure persistence of nutcrackers in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem. In the process, she will both determine the social system of this little known bird, and advance theoretical understanding of niche adaptation and mutualism stability. This problem is more urgent than it first seems, because while the nutcrackers forage on multiple conifer species, the whitebark pines are completely reliant on nutcrackers to cache and plant their seeds. These high altitude pines are essential to protect because they play a critical role in the ecosystem, including helping to retain snow (and thus drinking water) on the upper slopes of the Rockies, and providing high fat, high-energy nuts on which many animal species depend. Taza is focusing on ornithology, but her enthusiasm extends to studying the interdependence of the ecology of the surrounding ecosystems. Through her research, Taza strives to contribute to a better understanding of the intersection between conservation, behavioral ecology, and community ecology.
Taza was awarded the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Fellowship for her first year in the M.S. program at Cornell, and the NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Pre-doctoral Fellowship for her first three years as a Ph.D. student.