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Frostburg State University to Lead Research on Endangered Allegheny Woodrat

Frostburg State University to Lead Research on Endangered Allegheny Woodrat
Dr. Sunshine Brosi holds an Allegheny Woodrat. FSU is leading a study to examine the population decline of this native species and determine if it can be reversed.

A nearly $100,000 federal grant will enable Frostburg State University professors to lead multistate research on the possible solutions to reverse an Allegheny woodrat population decline.

Through the end of 2017, researchers in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will study the animal’s interactions with its habitats as well as the presence of raccoons near the woodrat. Raccoons can carry roundworm in their feces, which could kill the woodrat while it forages for food on the forest floor.

“The first thing we hope to accomplish is hopefully to identify the primary causes for the decline of the species,” said FSU Professor of Biology Dr. Tom Serfass, who is leading the mammalian portion of the research.

Woodrats are “cute, neat animals, with neat behaviors, occurring in neat habitats,” Serfass said. They are different from the non-native Norway rat that can be a nuisance around houses and barns.

“The woodrat in this region is a unique, native and declining wildlife species. Conserving the little woodrat is conserving a piece of a whole, unique forest ecosystem,” he said.

The study is a multi-agency and multi-institution effort with faculty from FSU joined by colleagues from Penn State Altoona, Montclair (N.J.) State University, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service, Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

Serfass and FSU Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Sunshine Brosi will be joined on the project with alumni Dan Feller, Class of 1986, who is the Western Maryland Ecologist for Maryland DNR and Greg Turner, who earned a master’s degree in 2001 and is an endangered mammal specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Graduate and undergraduate students from FSU and other institutions will also participate in the research.

“It helps our students in our program because they get to meet agency professionals,” Brosi said. “The students that work in this project collaborate with and meet professionals in the field that they may be working with or working for in the future. The research also highlights FSU’s commitment to research.”

Brosi will focus on the plant-based research, looking at foods the woodrat has collected over time. Woodrats mainly eat acorns, chestnuts and walnuts, Brosi said. She will also look at the deforestation effects on the raccoon to see if logging is pushing the animal into the woodrat habitat, spreading the parasite.

The $99,804 of federal funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office was granted by the private, nonprofit Wildlife Management Institute. Various agencies and institutions, including FSU, combined to match $100,401 in funds to bring the total funding to $200,205.

“The federal funding is a recognition that species don’t adhere to geopolitical boundaries,” Serfass said. “It’s a big step to conserve wildlife.”

For more information on FSU’s Department of Biology, visit or call 301-687-4166.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit or Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.


For further information on this release, contact:

Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

Telephone: 301-687-3171
Fax: 301-687-7589