Current Members

Below is a bit of information on people/students in the Wildlife Ecology lab at TSU:

Bill Sutton (Assistant Professor) 


In my natural habitat with an Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) in Tennessee

Bill is originally from the town of Philippi located in north-central West Virginia and is very proud of his mountain-state heritage. He moved to the southeastern United States in 2004 and has made a lifestyle out of moving around the southeast (Hunstville AL -> Sylva NC -> Knoxville TN -> Clemson SC -> Nashville TN).  Tennessee State University is now where he calls home and conducts wildlife ecology research. Bill is a broadly-trained ecologist with interests in global change ecology, wildlife biology, and biometry. His research has its theoretical basis in ecology (e.g., disturbance ecology and niche theory) with strong ties to management and applied conservation of vertebrate populations. He uses these themes to evaluate organismal responses to anthropogenic and stochastic disturbances and attempts to elucidate potential mechanisms (e.g., habitat change, disease transmission, changes in resource availability) responsible for changes in distribution patterns or demographics in a particular population or community.

Educational and Professional Background:

2013 – 2014, Post-Doc, Clemson University (

2011 – 2012, Post-Doc, University of Tennessee (

2005 – 2010, Ph.D., Nat. Resources & Env. Sciences, Alabama A&M University (

2002 – 2004, MS, Biological Sciences, Marshall University (

1998-2002, BS, Biology, Wheeling Jesuit University (

Nicole Witzel (Master’s Student)

20180214_133521Nicole Witzel is a graduate student working towards her Master’s in Environmental Sciences in Dr. Sutton’s lab beginning in Spring 2016.  Originally from Minnesota, her passion for wildlife began with catching frogs and turtles from a canoe in her backyard pond and her interest only grew when she reached college. Nicole’s undergraduate coursework was done at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the University of Wisconsin-Steven’s Point, where she received a double major in Conservation and Field Biology and a major in Wildlife Ecology: Research and Management, respectively.  Before joining Dr. Sutton’s lab, she worked with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Iowa State University and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service through the Student Conservation Association.  While employed at these organizations, she did mark and recapture studies for the endangered Blanding’s turtle, presence and absence surveys for bullsnakes, invasive species control, auditory bird surveys, habitat assessments and biological inventories of plants and wildlife. Though she has a broad range of experiences, reptile and amphibian conservation and research has always been her main focus, with a special interest in salamanders. At Tennessee State University, Nicole will be doing research on the Streamside Salamander (Ambystoma barbouri) by obtaining and analyzing environmental DNA to determine it’s spatial distribution.

Nicole’s CV

Brent Newman (PhD Student)

Althpicough Brent is a proud Texan, he is all hat and no cattle.  Raised in Dallas, Texas, Brent managed to discover wildlife and develop a strong interest in the natural world via fishing trips with his dad, collecting insects throughout the city’s green spaces, and books.  Brent graduated from Knox College with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a double minor in Biology and Spanish in 2010.  While at Knox College, Brent conducted research on tick populations in Illinois, which further developed his interest in wildlife management/conservation for human health and disease ecology.  After graduation, Brent received a U.S. Fulbright grant to Jamaica to conduct a radio-telemetry project on the Federally Endangered Jamaican Boa from 2011-2012.  Using his data from Jamaica, Brent turned his project into a master’s thesis at Texas A&M University-Kingsville where he graduated in 2014 with a M.S. in Wildlife Management.  During his time at TAMUK, Brent also worked on side projects related to American Alligator diet and food habits in Texas as well as s Dr. Sutton’s lab in 2016, he worked as a research assistant at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.  At Tennessee State University, Brent will be evaluating the ecological effects of various forest management practices on wildlife and tick populations as well as how these practices influence tick-borne disease prevalence at William B. Bankhead National Forest in northwestern Alabama.

Brent’s CV

Shawn Snyder (Master’s Student)

Born and raised ipygmy_men the foothills of Pennsylvania, Shawn grew up an outdoorsman by the tutelage of his father and has strong roots in the mountains of PA.  Shawn developed his interest in wildlife at an early age by visiting various national parks and by frequent camping trips with his family. Shawn graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 2016 with a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science. During his time studying at Penn State, he worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as an Engineering and Scientific Technical Intern doing research on fish communities and water pollution.  Shawn also was a research assistant and undergraduate researcher at Penn State working on a project that studied the effects of prescribed fire on Timber Rattlesnake populations in Pennsylvania. Through this experience, he developed a passion for the conservation of rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes of concern.  Other research Shawn has been a part of includes biodiversity surveys in South Africa, spotted salamander mark-recapture study, and a Wood Frog tadpole development study. At Tennessee State University, Shawn will be working to create a spatial model for the Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) in the state of Tennessee to determine its conservation status.

Shawn’s CV

Laura Horton (Master’s Student)

IMG_1098Laura is originally from Clarksville, Tennessee. Thanks to her military parents, she grew up camping and hiking, and was raised to love and appreciate the outdoors. She graduated from Belmont University in 2016 with a B.S. in Biology. While at Belmont for her undergraduate degree she completed a year-long study that examined above ground-below ground interactions between invasive Privet and Honeysuckle and invasive earthworm species and how they have impacted native earthworm populations. Throughout her project she fell in love with environmental science and conservation work. In her last year at Belmont she began assisting the Tennessee State University Wildlife Ecology lab with a multi-year turtle mark and release study at the TSU wetland, under the guidance of Dr. Sutton. Her work focused on investigating the parasite-host interactions between the leeches found on the turtles captured. She is now very excited to be working towards her Master’s in Environmental Sciences at TSU in Dr. Sutton’s lab. Her research will further investigate the patterns and effects of parasitism on their turtle hosts throughout Tennessee.

Laura’s CV

Emilly Nolan (Master’s Student)

Emilly was born and raispiced in Buffalo, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science in
Conservation Biology from SUNY ESF in 2016. Her love of the outdoors stemmed from
frequently camping as a child, and going for nature walks with her mom and uncle. She has always had a passion for wildlife, specifically amphibians, which has led her to work extensively with them. Emilly spent three summers in the Sierra Nevada mountains working for the National Park Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife doing field work and conducting research on two species of endangered yellow-legged frogs. While she was there she worked on projects including capture mark recapture studies, habitat restoration, and eDNA collection. Before coming to Tennessee, she worked for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation on a project calculating fishing effort on Lake Erie trout. She has also spent time in Wyoming working as an environmental educator for the Casper Mountain Science Program. Her research in Dr. Sutton’s lab will focus on the Eastern Hellbender ( Cryptobranchus alleganiensis ) and shifts in its microbiome after translocation.

Emilly’s CV

Brad Nissen (Master’s Student)


Brad grew up in Charlottesville, VA and graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA with an Environmental Science degree in 2011. After graduating, Brad developed a passion for amphibian conservation while studying and caring for Hellbender salamanders (and dozens of other reptiles and amphibians) as an intern at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. He later served on amphibian field research teams in Thailand, South Carolina, and Wyoming, contributing to research on the evolutionary biology, reproduction, and spatial ecology of various frog species. In 2015, Brad spent a year living and working in Panama at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, where he designed zoo exhibits and facilitated the captive breeding of endangered Panamanian amphibians. Just prior to joining Dr. Sutton’s lab, Brad spent two years in Austin, Texas working for the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department to research and conserve Federally endangered Texas spring salamanders (Eurycea) through captive-breeding and field-based monitoring programs. Brad loves field-based, applied ecology and is very excited to be working with Hellbenders again here in Tennessee. While at TSU, Brad will be using radio-telemetry to study the effects of translocation on the spatial ecology of Eastern Hellbenders.

Brad’s CV – PDF

Dominique Harris (Undergraduate Dean’s Scholar)

TSU ResearchDominique Harris is a Junior Agricultural Science Major with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine from Cincinnati, OH. She has been working with Dr. Sutton as an undergraduate research assistant for two years. From a very early age, her love for animals, adventure, and nature has driven her to aspire a career in veterinary medicine. In her free time she loves to read and explore new things. Dominique is also a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.