Doctoral Student Heading to Harvard to Work in Ornithology Laboratory After Graduation

November 29, 2021 | Graduate News, News, Student Success, UToday, Alumni, Natural Sciences and Mathematics
By Christine Billau

Focused on conservation, Gunnar Kramer spends a lot of time outdoors listening for birds.

As a Ph.D. student at The University of Toledo, Kramer published 17 peer-reviewed scientific papers about pioneering ornithological research that uses cutting-edge technology to identify migration routes of golden-winged warblers and blue-winged warblers.

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The songbirds, which are about the size of a Ping-Pong ball and weigh less than three pennies, travel thousands of miles each year, and Kramer mapped their journey using what are called light-level geolocators.

“I came to UToledo to work with Dr. Henry Streby, an accomplished scientist with extensive experience, on a project tracking the migrations of two tiny warblers to try to better understand how their movements outside of the breeding period might be linked to their population trends,” said Kramer, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wyoming and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.

The resulting research filled major knowledge gaps related to the ecology, evolution and conservation of migratory species.

“Most notably, my research showed that the population dynamics of migratory species can be linked to factors like deforestation in species’ wintering areas,” Kramer said. “This type of information is critical for conserving declining migratory birds.”

After earning his Ph.D. in environmental sciences in December, Kramer is heading to Harvard University for a post-doctoral research fellowship.

“He is a perfect example that we can and do host some of the best graduate students in the world here at UToledo,” said Streby, an associate professor of ecology.

The National Science Foundation awarded Kramer the fellowship to advance research to understand the basis of avian diversity, evolution and behavior.

The Minnesota-native will work in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Edwards, professor of organismal and evolutionary biology at Harvard and curator of ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

“My research will explore the potential avenues through which desert songbirds might adapt and evolve in response to climate change,” Kramer said. “It’s an integrative project that blends my extensive experience conducting ecological field research with new and exciting genetic analyses in the lab. I hope this new research will help us better understand how species might adapt to climate change.”


“I am very proud and excited that all of Gunnar’s hard work has led to this massive opportunity to continue his trajectory as a leader in our field,” Streby said. “It has been a pleasure to be part of Gunnar’s journey through graduate school and to watch his career trajectory keep going up. I worked with him for years before he started his Ph.D., and I hope to collaborate with him for the rest of my career.”

During his time at UToledo, Kramer received numerous special recognitions. He won the Best Student Presentation Award at the North American Ornithological Conference and a publication award from The Wildlife Society for the best wildlife-related paper published in any journal over a three-year period. He also was the 2020 Graduate Student of the Year for the North-central section of The Wildlife Society.

While leading a massive collaborative international study on avian migration, Kramer served on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and received a graduate dean’s fellowship from the College of Graduate Studies.

“Working with fellow graduate students to better UToledo was incredibly rewarding,” Kramer said. “I was fortunate to be surrounded by a group of graduate students who inspired me and challenged me.”

Kramer also credits his success to collaborating closely with Streby in the field and in the laboratory.

“I knew that working with Dr. Streby at UToledo would provide me with meaningful opportunities to gain experience and conduct cutting-edge ornithological research,” he said. “He definitely improved the quality of my research and the way that I think about science.

“Finishing a Ph.D. is a long and difficult journey,” Kramer added. “UToledo has afforded me many opportunities and I’ve developed a close group of collaborators, mentors and friends. So leaving UToledo is bittersweet, but I feel incredibly prepared and excited to be taking this next step in my career.”

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