August 31, 2010

Graduate student wins Todd Fink Memorial Award

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill -- A graduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is this year’s winner of a state award given for top research focusing on endangered and threatened plant and animal species.

Shawn Duncan, a master’s student in zoology, won the Todd Fink Memorial Award from the Illinois Conservation Foundation. The award will provide Duncan with a $500 stipend to defray research and registration costs.

“Shawn is a very deserving recipient of this award,” said Eric Hellgren, professor of zoology and director of the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at SIUC “He studies grassland and shrub land birds on mined landssimilar toTodd Fink, who studied raptors and to whom the award is dedicated.”

Fink earned his Bachelor of Science in wildlife biology at SIUC and went on to earn his Master of Science degree in 1983 at SIUC, as well. He became a respected biologist and ornithologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources before dying in 1995 at the age of 36.

Since 1996, 15 SIUC graduate students have received the award, which supports research on Illinois rare species.

Duncan’s research focuses on changes in grassland bird areas on reclaimed mining lands, which researchers believe can substitute for lost prairie and grasslands in Illinois. The state has designated some such areas as refuges for rare grassland birds. Duncan characterizes the habitat use of Henslow’s sparrow, a rare species, and develops habitat models for the areas.

SIUC conducts important research on Illinois state and federally endangered species, said Don McFall, chief of the IDNR Division of Natural Heritage.

“Studies leading to better protection and management of grassland birds and their habitat are a high priority of the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources,” McFall said. “Todd Fink certainly had an interest in grassland birds, so supporting Mr. Duncan in his research seems appropriate for this fund.”

Hellgren said Duncan’s research has not only helped the bird species but also helped developed Duncan as a scholar.

“These birds are a group of species with considerable conservation challenges,” Hellgren said. “Over the past two years, Shawn has developed greatly as a scholar, has shown intense dedication to his research, has presented his work at several professional meetings and has exhibited leadership within the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory with his work ethic and grant-writing ability.”