Matthew Johnson


Dr. Matt Johnson
(707) 826-3218
WDFS 152

Graduate Students

If you share some of my research interests (see research below) and would like to inquire about being a part of my graduate lab, there are a few steps you can take to let me know of your interest. Understand that space is limited and competition can be strong; I typically only accept 1-3 new students per year from among top candidates (see my current students). Successful applicants send me a sample of their writing in a 1-2 page thesis project idea proposal via email along with a CV and references. Be sure to also mention possible funding sources if you have them. If I have space and we share interests, you may also want to arrange for a visit to the HSU campus. If requested, you will send a formal application to the Graduate School

Awards & Recognition

  • Fulbright Scholarship to India. 2013.
  • Alistair McCrone Promising Young Scholar Award. 2004.
  • Cooper Ornithological Society A. Brazier Howell Award for outstanding presentation. 1999.
  • Southern Graduate Student Biological Symposium Award for Outstanding Presentation. 1998.
  • Louisiana Educational Quality Support Fund Graduate Fellowship. 1993-1997.
  • U.S. Forest Service Award for work on Neotropical Migrant Habitat Summaries. 1992.
  • U.S. Forest Service Award firefighting. 1992.
  • President’s Award for Outstanding Freshmen, UC Davis. 1988.

Professional Service, Memberships & Activities

  • The Wildlife Society, Society for Conservation Biology, American Ornithologists' Union, Cooper Ornithological Society.
  • Regular reviewer of papers submitted to Auk, Condor, Conservation Biology, Journal of Wildlife Management, Journal of Animal Ecology.
  • Reviewer for National Science Foundation
  • Board member, Friends of the Dunes
  • Science Chair, Cooper Ornithological Society annual meeting, June 2005.


  • Since 2000, I have been the Principle Investigator or co-Principle Investigator on grants and contracts totaling over $9 million.
  • We’ve received grants from a variety of funders, including the National Science Foundation, US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Agricultural Research Initiative, the National Geographic Society, and the Coastal Conservancy.


Ph.D. Ecology, Tulane University, 1999
B.S. Wildlife Biology, UC Davis, 1992

Courses Taught

WLDF 300 - Wildlife Ecology & Management
WLDF 311 - Wildlife Techniques & Scientific Method
WLDF 365 - Ornithology
WLDF 431 - Upland Habitat Ecology
WLDF 531 - Advanced Habitat Ecology
WLDF 585 - Graduate Seminar


Habitat Ecology ...a unifying theme
I am fascinated by all aspects of wildlife Habitat Ecology--from the theoretical to the practical. Habitat ecology is the study of how animals interact with their habitats, which my lab investigates by identifying animals' critical resources and the factors that constrain their use. Such studies advance our ecological understanding and refine our conservation and management efforts. Though much of my work focuses on on songbirds, I purposefully work with a variety of taxa to better understand emergent relationships between animals and their habitats. Therefore, students in my lab work on a diversity of study systems, yet share a unified focus on habitat.

Birds & Vineyards
Most recently, my students and I have begun to research the role of of birds in California’s winegrape vineyards. Many winegrape farm managers have installed nest boxes for barn owls, bluebirds, and swallows with the hope that the birds control insects and rodent pests such as gophers and voles. My lab is pursuing this line of research with a series of related projects (see Graduate Students below), starting with determining how barn owls select boxes, how they hunt across the landscape, how surrounding habitats affect hunting in the vineyards, and farmers’ perceptions of the owls and their potential to control rodents. We’re working mainly in Napa Valley, where there are over 300 barn owl nest boxes. We hope to expand the work to other birds and other wildlife soon. This line of research is important because it could help one of California’s most economically important industries become less reliant on chemical pesticides that have negative impacts on the environment, and it is fascinating to me because it combines my interests in birds, agriculture, and ecosystem services (see below) right here in California. Not to mention I love owls…and wine. Here’s short video on the topic by Great Big Story featuring my former student Carrie Wendt, and another produced by Wild Farm Alliance. Learn more about this project on Facebook or Instagram.

Habitat Models
Habitat models are mathematical or cartographic constructions that wildlife ecologists use to predict & understand animals' distribution in space and time, usually in reference to types of vegetation. They are especially useful for land managers because they can help assess the impact of proposed land use changes. Many habitat models incorporate Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. I am interested in both the construction of new wildlife habitat models and evaluation of existing models.

(See my current students' projects below)

Jamaica Research
For many years my students and I studied the ecology of birds in Jamaica, where my dissertation research was focused. I was first fascinated by how migratory and non-migratory (resident) birds are distributed among natural and agricultural habitats, and how their populations are influenced by food supply. This research led my students and I to work in coffee farms, where we discovered that birds can help control insect pests, an example of an ecosystem service (see below). Our work led to many publications, and has been occasionally featured in popular articles, such as in National Geographic and Audubon magazines.  I am no longer actively pursuing research projects in Jamaica.  Instead, my students and I have turned our attention to other coffee growing regions, including in Kenya (see Graduate Students below).

Learn more about this research »

Kenya Research
With the Jamaican research coming to a close, my students and I have turned some attention to related research questions in Kenya. With collaborators Dr. Tim Bean here at HSU and Dr. Julie Jedlicka at Missouri Western State University, my students and I are studying birds and insects in coffee farms. Specifically, we are working to understand how habitat, such as the amount of shade trees on a coffee farm, can influence the bird community and whether this has implications for the birds’ potential to control insect pests. We are also examining how projected climate warming might affect the distribution of birds and their impact on pests. I hope to continue this line of research in the future (see Graduate Students below).

Ecosystem Services
Ecosystem services are processes provided by nature that help sustain and fulfill human life. Some ecosystem services are provided mainly by plants - such as the regulating services of air purification and of carbon sequestration. Other services are provided by entire ecosystems - such as erosion control, moderation of weather and climate. Cultural values such as the provisioning of aesthetic beauty and spiritual stimulation can also be considered "services" provided by nature. In addition, some animal species provide important ecosystem services - such as pollination, pest control, seed dispersal, and waste removal. These animal-delivered ecosystem services can be extremely important both ecological and economically, and they offer a powerful incentive for wildlife conservation. My students and I examine ecosystem services provided by wildlife, and I am especially interested in examining how mobile organisms provision ecosystem services across a landscape.

Interdisciplinary studies related to wildlife
I believe there is general consensus that higher education's most fundamental purpose is, in David Orr's words, to build a citizenry prepared to work toward achieving healthy, resilient, just, and prosperous human communities that are living within their means economically and ecologically. Many different skills and disciplines must be brought to bear: economics, politics, and the natural, environmental, and social sciences. The classic humanities are critically necessary as well, to provide the context, for example, of how history, philosophy, and the arts both reflect humanity's past and shape its future relations with the natural world upon which our fate now so clearly depends.

I am interested in examining interdisciplinary questions relating to sustainability and wildlife. As such, I am a member of the Environment and Community (E&C) program here on campus, which is an interdisciplinary Master's of Arts program. Students interested in examining social science research questions related to wildlife conservation or pursuing projects that lie at the intersection of social movements and conservation work should contact me about this program.

Current Graduate Students

Name Thesis
Wendy Cristina Willis
Jennifer Brown
Allison Huysman
Dane St. George
Tiana Williams-Claussen
Brooks Estes
Deven Kammerichs-Berke
Xerуnimo Castaсeda


Google Scholar Profile

Ecological peer-reviewed publications

* indicates student-authors

  • 2020 Willis*, W. and M.D. Johnson. Political ecology of shade coffee: Perspectives from Jamaican Blue Mountain farmers. Conservation and Society 18: 280-292. PDF
  • 2019 Mendia*, S.M., Johnson, M.D. and Higley, J.M. Ecosystem services and disservices of bear foraging on managed timberlands. Ecosphere 10:1-25. PDF
  • 2019 Bergstrom, B.J., M.D. Johnson, J.C. Harris, and T.W. Sherry. Effects of habitat, season, and age on winter fat storage by migrant and resident birds in Jamaica. Journal of Field Ornithology 90:1-14. PDF
  • 2019 Maas, B., Heath, S., Grass, I., Cassano, C., Classen, A., Faria, D., Gras, P., Williams-Guillén, K., Johnson, M., Karp, D.S. and Linden, V. Experimental field exclosure of birds and bats in agricultural systems—Methodological insights, potential improvements, and cost-benefit trade-offs. Basic and Applied Ecology 35: 1-12. PDF
  • 2018 Johnson, M.D., C.A. Wendt*, D. St. George*, A. Huysman*, B. Estes*, X. Castañeda*. Can barn owls help control rodents in winegrape vineyard landscapes? A review of key questions and suggested next steps. Proc. 28th Vertebr. Pest Conf. (D.M. Woods, Ed.), Published at Univ. of Calif., Davis. Pages 180-187. PDF
  • 2018 Johnson, M.D. and E.M. Wood. Habitat Ecology. Ch. 18 in Ornithology: Foundation, Analysis, and Application, edited by M.L. Morrison, A.D. Rodewald, G. Voelker, M.R. Colón, and J.F. Prather, Johns Hopkins Press. PDF
  • 2018 Meisman*, E., C. Bortot*, L. Enriquez*, C. Herr*, S. Ihle*, S. Jensen*, M. Johnson, M. Sampson*, and C. Wendt*. Coastal vegetation communities affect mesocarnivore activity in Northern California dune ecosystems. Western Wildlife 5:1–6. PDF
  • 2018 Smith*, C., M.C. Milligan*, M.D. Johnson, and P. Njoroge. Bird community response to landscape and foliage arthropod variables in sun coffee of central Kenyan highlands. Global Ecology and Conservation 13: e00378. PDF
  • 2017 Wendt*, C. A., & Johnson, M. D. Multi-scale analysis of barn owl nest box selection on Napa Valley vineyards. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 247:75-83. PDF
  • 2017 Eyes*, S. A., Roberts, S. L., & Johnson, M. D. California Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) habitat use patterns in a burned landscape. The Condor 119:375-388. PDF
  • 2016 Browning, M., Ceckler, L., Knott, K., and Johnson, M.D. Prey consumption by a large aggregation of barn owls in an agricultural setting. Proceedings of the 27th Vertebrate Pest Conference (R. M. Timm and R. A. Baldwin, Eds.) Published at Univ. of Calif., Davis. Pp. 337-344. PDF
  • 2016 Spidal*, A.B. and M.D. Johnson. Sexual habitat segregation in migrant warblers along a shade gradient of Jamaican coffee farms. Journal of Caribbean Ornithology 29:37–42. PDF
  • 2016 Sherry, T.W., M.D. Johnson, K.A. Williams, J.D. Kaban*, C.K. McAvoy*, A.M. Hallauer*, S. Rainey*, and S. Xu*. Dietary opportunism, resource partitioning, and consumption of coffee berry borers by five species of migratory wood warblers (Parulidae) wintering in Jamaican shade coffee plantations. Journal of Field Ornithology 87:273-292. PDF
  • 2016 Johnson, M.D. & S.C. Hackett. Why birds matter economically. Ch. 2 in Why Birds Matter: Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services, C.H. Sekercioglu, D.G. Wenny, and C.J. Whelan, eds. Univ. Chicago Press. PDF
  • 2016 Whelan, C.J., D.F. Tomback, D. Kelly, and M. D. Johnson. Trophic interaction networks and ecosystem services. Ch. 3 in Why Birds Matter: Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services, C.H. Sekercioglu, D.G. Wenny, and C.J. Whelan, eds. Univ. Chicago Press. PDF
  • 2016 Milligan*, M. C., Johnson, M. D., Garfinkel*, M., Smith*, C. J., & Njoroge, P.  2016. Quantifying pest control services by birds and ants in Kenyan coffee farms. Biological Conservation 194: 58-65.PDF
  • 2015 Smith*, C., D. Barton, M.D. Johnson, C. Wendt*, M.C. Milligan, P. Njoroge, P. Gichuki.  Bird communities in sun and shade coffee farms in Kenya.  Global Ecology and Conservation.PDF
  • 2015 Delgado de al Flor, Y.A.* and M.D.Johnson. Influence of invasive European beachgrass on mesopredator activity in the coastal dunes of Northern California. Western Wildlife. 2: 29-34 PDF
  • 2015 Garfinkel, M.* and M.D. Johnson. Pest-removal services provided by birds on small organic farms in northern California. Agriculture, Ecosystems, and the Environment. 211: 24-31. PDF
  • 2015 Johnson, M.D. and Y.L. De Leon*. Effect of an invasive plant and moonlight on rodent foraging behavior in a coastal dune ecosystem. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0117903 PDF
  • 2015 Spragens, K*, J.M. Black, and M.D. Johnson.  Aleutian Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii leucopareia use of pastures in relation to livestock management.  Wildfowl 65: 31–50. PDF
  • 2014 Howard*, K. and M.D. Johnson. Effects of natural habitat on pest control in California Vineyards. Western Birds 45:276–283 PDF
  • 2014 Kalinowski*, R.S., M.D. Johnson, and A.C Rich. Habitat relationships of great gray owl prey in meadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 38(3): 547-556 PDF
  • 2014 Railsback, S.F. and M.D. Johnson. Effects of land use on bird populations and pest control services on coffee farms. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111(16): 6109-6114 PDF
  • 2014 Trainor*, M., M.D. Johnson, and H. Davis. Orangequit (Euneornis campestris) and Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) body condition in response to shade coffee habitat in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. J. Caribbean Ornithology. 27: 15-21 PDF
  • 2014 Wolfe*, J.D., M.D. Johnson and C J. Ralph. Do birds select habitat or food resources? Nearctic-Neotropic migrants in northeastern Costa Rica. PLOS ONE 9(1): e86221. PDF
  • 2013 Wood*, E.M, M.D. Johnson, R.D. Jackson, A.M. Pidgeon, and B.A. Garrison. Avian community use and occupancy of California oak savanna. Condor 115: 712-724. PDF
  • 2013 Wolfe*, J., M.D. Johnson, and C.J. Ralph. Higher mass increases annual survival of wintering Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) in Northeastern Costa Rica. Condor. 115:163–167 PDF
  • 2012 Smith*, C., M.D. Johnson, B. Campos*, and C. Bishop*. Variation in aggressive behavior of black-throated blue warblers in Jamaica.Condor 114: 831-839. PDF
  • 2011 Railsback, S.F. and M.D. Johnson. Pattern-oriented modeling of bird foraging and pest control in coffee farms. Ecological Modelling 222: 3305-3319. PDF
  • 2011 Wenny, D., T.L. DeVault, M.D. Johnson, D. Kelly, C.H. Sekercioglu, D.F. Tomback, and C.J. Whelan. The need to quantify ecosystem services provided by birds. Auk 128: 1-14. PDF
  • 2011 Powers*, B., M.D. Johnson, J.A. LaManna*, A. Rich. The influence of cattle grazing on pocket gophers in the central Sierra Nevada. Northwestern Naturalist 92: 13-18. PDF
  • 2011 Jirinec*, V., B.R. Campos*, M.D. Johnson. Roosting behavior of a migratory songbird on Jamaican coffee farms: Implications for ecosystem services. Bird Conservation International Feb: 1-9. PDF
  • 2010 Kalinowski*, R.S. and M.D. Johnson. Influence of suburban habitat on a wintering bird community in coastal Northern California. The Condor 112: 274–282. PDF
  • 2010 Johnson, M.D., J.L. Kellermann*, and A.M. Stercho*. Pest control services by birds in shade and sun coffee in Jamaica. Animal Conservation 13: 140-147. PDF
  • 2010 Wood, E.M., M.D. Johnson, and B.A. Garrison. Quantifying bird habitat using a relevé method. Transactions of the Western Wildlife Society 46:25-41. PDF
  • 2009 Johnson, M.D., N.J. Levy*, J.L. Kellermann*, and D.E. Robinson. Effects of shade and bird predation on arthropods and leaf damage on coffee farms in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. Agroforestry Systems 76: 139-148 PDF
  • 2009 Tonra*, C.M., M.D. Johnson, S.K. Heath and M.E. Hauber. Does nesting habitat influence hatching synchrony between brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) and two hosts? Ecography PDF
  • 2009 Johnson, M.D. and C.M. Horn*. Effects of rotational grazing on rodents and raptors on a coastal grassland. Western North American Naturalist 68:444-462 PDF
  • 2008 Kellermann*, J.L., M.D. Johnson, A.M. Stercho*, and S. Hackett. Ecological and economic services provided by birds on Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee farms. Conservation Biology 22:1177-1185 PDF
  • 2008 Tonra*, C.M., M.E. Hauber, S.K. Heath, and M.D. Johnson. Ecological correlates and sex differences in early development of a generalist brood parasite. Auk 125:205-213 PDF
  • 2007 Myers*, C.H., L. Eigner*, J.A. Harris*, R. Hilman*, M.D. Johnson, R. Kalinowski*, J.J. Muir*, M. Reyes*, L.E. Tucci*. The effectiveness of ground-based and tree-based polyvinyl chloride traps for capturing Pseudacris regilla in northwestern California. Northwestern Naturalist:147-154 PDF
  • 2007 Tietz*, J.R. and M.D. Johnson. Stopover ecology and habitat selection of juvenile Swainson’s Thrushes along the Northern California coast. Condor. :795-807 PDF
  • 2007 Johnson, M.D. Measuring habitat quality: a review. Condor:489-504 PDF
  • 2007 Kristan, W.B. III, M.D. Johnson, and J.T. Rotenberry. Choices and consequences of habitat selection for birds. Condor 109:485-488. PDF
  • 2006 Johnson, M.D., T.W. Sherry, R.T. Holmes, and P.P Marra. Assessing habitat quality for a migratory songbird wintering in natural and agricultural habitats. Conservation Biology 20:1433-1444. PDF
  • 2006 Johnson, M.D., A.M. Strong, and T.W. Sherry. The balanced breeding hypothesis for the integration of migrant and resident insectivorous birds in the tropics. Journal of Avian Biology 37: 229-237. PDF
  • 2005 Johnson, M.D., T.L. Adams*, T.M. Branston*, R.D. Clark*, W.B. Crombie*, D.L. Germann*, A.D.M. Ives-Ringstad*, H. Langendorf*, and J.L. Moore*. Variables influencing predation of artificial duck nests in Northwest Coastal California. Transactions of the Western Wildlife Society 41:11-20. PDF
  • 2005 Johnson, M.D. Habitat quality: a brief review for wildlife biologists. Transactions of the Western Wildlife Society 41:31-41. PDF
  • 2005 Sherry, T.W., M.D. Johnson, and A.M. Strong. Are migrant birds limited by food in winter? Chapter 31 in Birds of Two Worlds: The Ecology and Evolution of Migration. Johns Hopkins University Press. PDF
  • 2005 Johnson, M.D., T.W. Sherry, A.M. Strong, and A. Medori*. Migrants in Neotropical bird communities: an assessment of the breeding currency hypothesis. Journal of Animal Ecology:333-341 PDF
  • 2002 Johnson, M.D., D. Ruthrauff*, J. Jones*, and J. Robinson*, and J. Tietz*. Short term effects of tartar emetic on re-sighting rates of migratory songbirds in the non-breeding season. Journal of Field Ornithology:191-196 PDF
  • 2001 Johnson, M.D. and T.W. Sherry. Effects of food availability on the distribution of migratory warblers among habitats in Jamaica, West Indies. Journal of Animal Ecology :546-560 PDF
  • 2001 Strong, A.M. and M.D. Johnson. Exploitation of a seasonal resource by non-breeding Plain and White-crowned pigeons: implications for conservation of tropical dry forests. Wilson Bulletin:73-77 PDF
  • 2000 Johnson, M.D. Effects of shade-tree species and crop structure on the bird and arthropod communities in a Jamaican coffee plantation. Biotropica:133-145 PDF
  • 2000 Johnson, M.D. Evaluation of an arthropod sampling technique useful in measuring food availability for forest insectivores. Journal of Field Ornithology:88-109 PDF
  • 2000 Johnson, M.D. and A. M. Strong. Length-weight relationships of Jamaican arthropods. Entomological News 111:270-281. PDF
  • 1996 Johnson, M.D. and G.R. Geupel. The importance of productivity to the dynamics of a Swainson's Thrush population. Condor:133-141 PDF
  • 1996 Johnson, M.D. and J.G. Gilardi. The communal roosting behavior of the Crested Caracara in southern Guatemala. Journal of Field Ornithology:44-47 PDF

Higher education publications

  • 2019 Sprowles et al. Place-Based Learning Communities on a Rural Campus: Turning Challenges into Assets. Learning Communities Research and Practice . 7: Article 6. PDF
  • 2017 Johnson, M.D., Sprowles, A.E., Overeem, K., and Rich, A. A place-based learning community: Klamath Connection at Humboldt State University. Learning Communities Research & Practice 5(2): 1-13 PDF
  • 2005 Johnson, M.D. Academic performance of ‘native’ versus transfer students in natural resource sciences. Journal of College Student Development 39:570-579. PDF
  • 2004 Johnson, M.D. The next Reality Show: legitimizing experiential learning with community-based research. The American Biology Teacher 66: 249-253. PDF
  • 2001 Johnson, M.D. “Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift”: reflections of a first-year wildlife teacher. Wildlife Society Bulletin:1298-1299 PDF

Opinion-editorial publications & popular articles

  • 2003 Johnson, M.D. Liar, liar, brush on fire. [Opinion essay on prevention of brush fires like those in Southern California, fall 2003] EcoNews Nov-Dec, 2003. print version
  • 2003 Johnson, M.D. Where will the wood come from? [Opinion essay on logging in National Forests inspired by preparatory work for Habitat Ecology course lectures] San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday October 13. PDF
  • 2003 Johnson, M.D. Student project contributes to marsh restoration and enhancement effort. Outdoor California, May-June Issue, Pages 4-7. PDF
  • 2001 Johnson, M.D. [Co-written with numerous student authors] Why Y2Y?[Opinion essay on merits of a conservation initiative written with students and stemming from in-class debate in Habitat Ecology course.] EcoNews Jan-Feb, 2001. print version
  • 2000 Johnson, M.D. A piece of the pie. [Opinion essay on human population problem inspired by preparatory work for Wildlife Ecology & Management lectures]. EcoNews Nov-Dec, 2000. print version
  • Various “Letters-to-the-Editor” compiled