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 the tutelage of 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. This experience added to her growing interest in wildlife conservation, and she was eventually 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 – a detached component of Montezuma Castle National Monument. Other non-native turtle species had been introduced to the Well over the years, which was suspected to be detrimental to the population of native Sonora mud turtles. Shellie’s goal was to investigate whether the native turtle population was beginning to bounce back following an effort to remove all of the non-native turtle species a few years prior. From there, Shellie moved on to study turtles and tortoises in the deserts of California. 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. It is one of ten species in a new program developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums called Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE). Working with a local zoo through this program, as well as with other federal and state agencies, Shellie’s objective is to aid in boosting conservation efforts for the southwestern pond turtle.


Before coming to USGS, Shellie received her education at the University of Toledo (UT) in 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. During her time as an undergraduate, Shellie participated in field courses overseas that focused on teaching basic concepts in ecology, and she became enthusiastic about studying and protecting the natural environment and its inhabitants. 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.