Lora Smith

Dr. Lora L. Smith


My research interests are centered around the ecology of amphibians and reptiles of the Southeastern Coastal Plain, and in particular on wildlife linkages between aquatic and terrestrial systems and keystone species in these systems. I am also interested in interactions between natural and human disturbance legacies in longleaf pine forests and herpetofaunal communities. Aspects of my research have been incorporated into training workshops and field courses for working professionals and university students.

Jennifer M. Howze

Senior Research Associate II

My primary research interests focus on the management and conservation of reptiles and amphibians in the longleaf pine ecosystem. Current projects center on upland snake and gopher tortoise ecology and monitoring rare pond-breeding amphibians. I obtained my B.S. and M.S. degrees in Wildlife Ecology and Management from the University of Georgia, during which, I researched a broad range of mammal species, with a particular emphasis on forest bats and small mammals. I currently serve on the Executive Board of the Gopher Tortoise Council. I live in Albany with my husband, Brent, and three dogs, Goose, Charlie, Pepper, and kitty, Rosie.

Maddie Zickgraf

Seasonal Research Technician

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I found a love for the study of nature and animals early in life.  For my undergrad I decided to head west, to Seattle, where I graduated with a B.S. in Evolution, Ecology and Conservation Biology from the University of Washington in 2018. After graduating I became a field technician for the U.S. Forest Service working in many different ecosystems across the west. Through this work I quickly discovered my love for aquatic systems and amphibians. After working with endangered frogs for the U.S. Geological Survey in Oregon, I’ve finally returned to the East Coast where I’m ecstatic to work with a variety of herpetofauna that I recognize from childhood. In my free time, you can usually find me caring for my houseplants or with my nose in book.

Jess Atutubo

Seasonal Research Technician

Since graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a B.S. in Wildlife & Conservation Biology I’ve had gigs as a seasonal technician on projects ranging from invasive plant management in Virginia and fisheries monitoring in New Mexico with the National Park Service, to box turtle tracking in Indonesia. After a stint in environmental consulting, I’m back to working with the coolest group of animals – herps – here at the Jones Center. I’m interested in staying out of the office for as long as possible and being a role model for people, especially younger students, to see themselves participating in science and getting connected to nature. In my free time I can usually be found playing video games or cruising around on a bright yellow motorcycle.

Graduate Students

McKayla Susen

M.S. Student

I am currently a Master’s student in the Warnell School of Forestry at the University of Georgia. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I worked as technician on large river systems in Illinois and have spent the last two years working in longleaf pine forests at the Jones Center. My Master’s research examines the relationship between gopher tortoise population densities and fine-scale habitat structure in longleaf pine forests. Specifically, I am interested in how soil texture and vegetation structure effect gopher tortoise abundance, and distribution and the effect that increased tortoise population densities have on vegetation structure. My overall research interests involve the integration of multiple scientific disciplines to answer community ecology questions.

Nikki Yetke

M.S. Student

I am a Master’s student in Zoology at the University of Florida and conducting my field work at the Jones Center. Prior to beginning my Master’s degree, I received my B.S. in Conservation Biology and Ecology from Boston University and worked as a field technician in the Wildlife and Herpetology Labs at Ichauway. My primary research interests focus on the role of animals as “ecosystem engineers.” I am interested in the effects that animals, primarily predators, have on ecosystem functions. For my Master’s research, I am investigating the ecological role of American alligator burrows in geographically isolated wetlands (GIWs). I am looking specifically at alligator use and movement between burrows, commensal species use of alligator burrows, burrow distribution across the landscape, and the microhabitat provided by alligator burrows.

Garrett Lawson

M.S. Student

I discovered my passion for wildlife and the outdoors at a very young age. That passion quickly grew into a love and fascination of reptiles and amphibians which has shaped my adult life and professional goals. My research interests today focus on ecological research that informs conservation and management decisions to allow for better persistence or recovery of species of conservation concern. As a master’s student at Virginia Tech and the Jones Center, I am investigating gopher tortoise nest site selection and the influence of nest environment on hatching success. Nesting, incubation, and early life are periods of high mortality for many turtle species, including gopher tortoises. Further understanding of these periods may allow habitat managers to better conserve gopher tortoise populations and the populations of many other imperiled reptile and amphibian species that rely on their burrows for survival. 

Jade Samples

M.S. Student

I am currently a Master’s student with the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. After receiving my B.S.F.R in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Georgia, I spent several seasons working as field technician and crew leader in research projects ranging from salamanders to bat ecology. I am interested in amphibians as bioindicators and improving management practices to help reverse the effects of habitat loss. My research at the Jones Center is focused on how amphibian and plant communities respond to wetland restoration. For my Master’s, I am investigating how certain restoration techniques can  affect wetland biodiversity and specifically gopher frog population responses to restored isolated wetlands.