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Fagan, William

Bill Fagan
Chair, Department of Biology
3235 Bio-Psych

Research Interests 

My research involves meshing field biology with theoretical models to address critical questions in community ecology and conservation biology. I believe that ecological theory will be strengthened if it is forced to help solve real-world problems, and that conservation biology involves difficult choices that demand quantitative approaches. My ongoing research falls in several areas that illustrate this melding of theory and problem-solving, including 1) spatial ecological dynamics, 2) ecoinformatics, biodiversity databases, and conservation planning, and 3) biological stoichiometry and paleoecostoichioproteomics.

Spatial Ecology

To understand the complex ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation, I combine mathematical theory with empirical databases and/or field experiments to explore how landscape heterogeneity and patchiness can influence population and community dynamics.  My interests in this area are diverse, including such issues as spatial subsidies, species’ home ranges and migratory movements, spatial aspects of successional change, and edge-mediated effects. Ultimately, I'm interested in how spatial effects influence the assembly, collapse, and functioning of ecological systems, and I try to understand these relationships by working at the interface of data and theory. Research on this topic involves field work in some amazing parts of the world, including the Eastern Steppes of Mongolia, the Antarctic Peninsula, and the starkly beautiful Pumice Plains of Mt. St. Helens, Washington.
Ecoinformatics, biodiversity databases, and conservation planning
To strengthen the science of conservation biology, I work to devise a) quantitative methods for extracting useful biodiversity data from minimalist data sets, and b) mathematical models that assess the adequacy of conservation goals by focusing on the regional dynamics of archetypal, indicator species. An often forgotten key to such models is that they be simple enough that the appropriate data can actually be collected in the field.  My interests in the science of conservation are diverse, and I have been involved in projects ranging from reserve planning, to spatial analyses of extinction risk in desert fishes, to time-series analyses of extinction risk, to reviews of endangered species recovery plans.  In 2001, I received a Guggenheim Fellowship for support of my research in these areas for a project entitled: “The Weak Data Problem in Conservation Biology.”

Honors and Awards 

University of Maryland Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award, 2010.

University of Maryland College of Chemical and Life Sciences Research Award, 2009.

Presidential Award, The American Society of Naturalists, for best paper in American Naturalist in 2005 for:  Fagan, W.F., M.A. Lewis, M. Neubert, C. Aumann, J. Apple, and J.G. Bishop. 2005. When can herbivores reverse the spread of an invading plant? A test case from Mount St. Helens. American Naturalist. 166: 669-686.

Guggenheim Fellow, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 2001-2002.

Selected Publications 

•   Bewick, S., R.S. Cantrell, C. Cosner, and W.F. Fagan. 2016. How resource phenology alters consumer population dynamics. American Naturalist, 187: 151-166.

•   Fleming, C.H., J.M. Calabrese, T. Mueller3, K.A. Olson, P. Leimgruber, and W.F. Fagan. 2014. From fine-scale foraging to home ranges: A semi-variance approach to identifying movement modes across spatiotemporal scales. American Naturalist. E154-E167.

•   Lynch, H.J., M. Rhainds, J. M. Calabrese, S. Cantrell, C. Cosner, and W.F. Fagan. 2014. How climate extremes—not means—define a species’ geographic range boundary via a demographic tipping point. Ecological Monographs. 84:134-149.

•   Mueller, T., R. O’Hara, R. Urbanek, S. Converse, and W.F. Fagan. 2013. Social learning of migratory performance. Science. 341: 999-1002. (Cover Article)

•   Fagan, W.F., M.A. Lewis, M. Auger-Méthé, T. Avgar, S. Benhamou, G. Breed, L. LaDage, U. Schlägel, W. Tang, Y. Papastamatiou, J. Forester, and T. Mueller. 2013. Spatial memory and animal movement. Ecology Letters. 16: 1316-1329.

•   Fagan, W.F., R.S. Cantrell, C. Cosner, and S. Ramakrishnan. 2009. Interspecific variation in critical patch size and gap-crossing ability as determinants of geographic range size distributions. American Naturalist 173: 363-375.

•   Muneepeerakul, R., E. Bertuzzo, H.J. Lynch, W.F. Fagan, A. Rinaldo and I. Rodriguez-Iturbe. 2008. Neutral metacommunity models predict fish diversity patterns in Mississippi-Missouri basin. Nature 453: 220-222.

•   Fagan, W.F.,R.S. Cantrell, and C. Cosner. 1999. How habitat edges change species interactions. American Naturalist. 153: 165-182.

Selected Current Funding

•   Department of Defense SERDP. (2016-2019). The role of phenology and phenology change in the transmission of arthropod-borne diseases: Implications for management on military lands

•   NSF Advances in Biological Informatics (Innovation). (2015-2018). “Advanced mathematical, statistical, and software tools to unlock the potential of animal tracking data.”

•   Department of Defense MURI. (2014-2019) “Understanding the skin microbiome through the integration of metagenomics, bioinformatics, spatial ecology and synthetic biology.” 

•   NSF LTREB Renewal (Long-term Research in Environmental Biology). (2013-2018) “Collaborative Research: Impacts of insect herbivory on the pace and pattern of successional change at Mount St. Helens.”

•   NSF Mathematical Biology. (2012-2016) Collaborative Research: Spatial spread of stage-structured populations.

Collaborative Opportunities

Postdoctoral opportunities (click for current opportunities)


Research collaborations

My lab group is actively seeking collaborators who are interested in working together on applications in several areas:

1)   Dynamical systems and control theory (Computational and analytical projects involving dynamics of vector-borne diseases & the spatial spread of invasive species)

2)   Non-Markovian stochastic processes and stochastic differential equations (Development and application of SDE approaches as representations of animal movements)

3)   Diverse mathematical approaches (Development of mathematical models for various biological processes such as spatial memory, perception, communication, and leadership)

Related News 

ISR welcomes five new affiliate faculty
Joining ISR: Ken Wood, Bill Fagan, Daniel Butts, Monifa Vaughn-Cooke, Ilya Ryzhov. July 5, 2016

William Fagan and team find whooping cranes stay the course when they follow a wise old bird
Long-lived birds learn their migration route from older cranes, and get better at it with age. November 18, 2015

Fagan, colleagues receive butterfly research grant
Grant brings together butterfly monitoring citizen groups and experts in informatics and statistics. September 20, 2012