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Shellie (Michele) R Puffer

As a Wildlife Biologist, Shellie’s research interests focus on conservation of animals and their habitats, the effects of climate change on wildlife, and animal ecology and physiology. Her current focus is directed toward the study of turtle and tortoise ecology and conservation in the Desert Southwest, working closely under herpetologist and Research Ecologist, Dr. Jeffrey Lovich.

Shellie is a Wildlife Biologist in the Terrestrial Dryland Ecology Branch of the Southwest Biological Science Center. She began as a volunteer with USGS, providing field support for collecting data on the demography and ecology of the federally threatened Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) at Joshua Tree National Park and then was hired as a Biological Science Technician with USGS to assist in a mark-recapture study of a population of Sonora mud turtles (Kinosternon sonoriense) at Montezuma Well. She is currently investigating desert tortoise ecology and demography in the Sonoran Desert of California with the ultimate objective of aiding in establishing a long-term desert tortoise monitoring program. The program will be used by the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Community Conservation Plan to measure desert tortoise population trends. Additionally, Shellie is working on a project that focuses on locating, studying, and protecting relict populations of the southwestern pond turtle (Actinemys pallida) along the Mojave River in San Bernardino County, California. The southwestern pond turtle has been listed as a species of special concern in California, primarily due to loss of habitat as the river dries due to drought and overdraft from urban and agricultural use.

Before coming to USGS, Shellie received her education at the University of Toledo, Ohio. As an undergraduate fascinated by the Life Sciences, she worked in an immunology lab that studied Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE) in mice. EAE is an analog for demyelinating diseases in humans, such as multiple sclerosis. Her undergraduate thesis focused on researching ways to ameliorate the disease. Her work earned her college and departmental honors. After graduating summa cum laude with a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Chemistry, she decided to begin a Master’s Program in Biology/Ecology at UT. During the remainder of her time at the university, she studied the effects of climate change, specifically heat waves, on plant physiology and plant-herbivore interactions. She also participated in research on developing a biofuel from diatoms (a type of algae) harvested from Lake Erie. Her free time was spent working in the UT Outdoor Classroom Garden – a community garden established to teach and promote sustainability – or learning to be a guide on the rivers of West Virginia in order to discover more about the natural history and native flora and fauna of the area, with the goal of passing the knowledge along to others. Her developing enthusiasm for becoming a steward of the natural environment and using research to develop strategies for addressing climate change and wildlife conservation eventually pushed her to move West to Arizona in order to pursue other opportunities. Since then, she has been building her portfolio in the exciting world of research and conservation in herpetology under the tutelage of Dr. Jeffrey Lovich.