South Dakota State University’s Center of Excellence for Bison Studies welcomes postdoctoral researcher Dr. Jeff Martin. Martin will help the center increase its research capabilities and provide greater support to bison producers in South Dakota. He is based at the West River Research and Extension facility in Rapid City.
Martin’s research currently focuses on utilizing thermal imagery to measure the thermoregulation of bison and exploring how nutrition of bison changes along the Great Plains. Martin is originally from a bison ranch in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, and has a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s degree in geosciences from East Tennessee State University, as well as a Ph.D. in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M University.
“The overarching theme of my research is to explore how bison respond to the direct effects of increasing climate variability and climate change, as well as how the indirect effects of these things will change how bison grow and reproduce in response to changes in forage quality and water availability,” Martin said.
Decreasing forage productivity also decreases bison productivity. Decreased bison productivity affects the sustainability and profit margins of bison producers, which Martin says is a big concern of his.
“While they are the largest native mammal to North America, bison are the smallest they have ever been in their nearly 1.5-million-year evolutionary record and are expected to continue to decline in size by nearly 50% with projected scenarios of warming and drought in the Great Plains,” Martin said. “This is a cornerstone of my research: seeking to understand how we can best adapt our management practices to maintain sustainability.”
Martin has published several articles on the utility of the fossil record to help improve the conservation of bison and better understand how bison change their size and shape in response to different climatic pressures such as increasing temperature or worsening drought. While working on his Ph.D., he took a physiological approach to understanding how bison change their size and shape to climate. He studied 19 bison herds ranging from Saskatchewan to Texas with a thermal imaging camera to measure how bison balance their heat in the summer and winter along the entire length of the Great Plains.
In his new role, Martin says he is looking forward to collaborating with and assembling teams to advance research, extension and education about bison. “There is already a great group of people who are working on various bison projects and I look forward to sharing their research findings through the Center of Excellence, as well as conducting my own research on bison.”
Martin believes that the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies is filling a much needed role that helps to centralize and create information and knowledge about bison for many groups of people, including bison herd managers on private operations and public parks, to Native American tribes who rely on bison production and preservation, to the general public who are curious about bison and how they interact with their surroundings and how they are produced as a healthy source of protein.
“It is our aim to provide information and services to improve the production and conservation of our national mammal: the bison,” Martin said.