Committee Chair

Gaudin, Timothy J.

Committee Member

Wilson, Thomas P.; Richards, Sean M.


Dept. of Biological and Environmental Sciences


College of Arts and Sciences


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


Predictive niche modeling is an essential tool in effectively managing and conserving wildlife habitats. With environmental and landscape data, we can determine and assign priority areas for conservation efforts targeting the North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) in east Tennessee and beyond. The focus of the present study is the relationship between otters and land cover. Using citizen-science, an analysis was conducted using ArcGIS and Maxent to determine potential habitat for river otters using presence-only data. The results of this study detail a habitat suitability map for river otters in east Tennessee, indicating a strong positive correlation between mixed forest land cover and otter presence. This information can be expounded on with further field testing and utilized by state officials in managing wildlife. As river otters are indicators of stream ecosystem health, maintaining habitat that is suitable to L. canadensis would also mean providing quality habitat for many riparian species.


I would like to thank several people for the role they played in allowing me to complete this research. First, my advisors and committee – Dr. Timothy Gaudin, Dr. Thomas Wilson, and Dr. Sean Richards – for aiding me in writing a cohesive, comprehensive thesis, while lending me their expert time and advice. Additionally, Nyssa Hunt with the UTC GIS Lab was critical in teaching me and guiding me through ArcGIS and Maxent procedures whenever I needed her. While conducting field research, many people contributed to providing sites for me to collect data, including fellow graduate students Eliot Beers and Tegan Childers, as well as the locals of many small towns in the Smoky Mountains. Moreover, I would like to say how appreciative I am of the funding awarded to me by UTC’s URaCE Office through the SEARCH Award 2019. I was also able to borrow additional necessary equipment from the Rome-Floyd E.C.O. Center, where I volunteer. Ben Winkelman, Director, and Jason Hosford, Biologist, at the E.C.O. Center also provided time and expertise in furthering my research. In addition, I want to express my gratitude for the support and encouragement of my parents, Greg and Rebecca Francis, who scheduled several weekends of their lives around traveling to my sample sites, providing lodging, transportation, and an endless supply of snacks, while acting as my field aids. Last, but certainly not least, I must acknowledge my devoted, hard-working husband who I am eternally grateful to for his emotional, mental, physical, financial and loving support, not only through this research and writing process, but also through every aspect of life. He always pushes me to do my best, pursue what I think is unachievable and care for myself through rest and reflection along the way.


M. S.; A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Science.




Habitat (Ecology); Niche (Ecology); North American river otter


Tennessee, East


conservation; GIS; habitat suitability; lontra canadensis; maxent modelling; niche model; river otter; Tennessee

Document Type

Masters theses




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