Virginia Tech® home

Isaac VanDiest

IGC FELLOW    |   Global Change Center

Ph.D. Student  •   Biological Sciences  

Research Interests: Behavioral ecology, urbanization, ornithology, ecophysiology, and conservation biology

Advisor: Dr. Kendra Sewall


Isaac is a PhD student in Biological Sciences. As a member of Dr. Kendra Sewall’s lab, he focuses on the differences in the behavior of urban and rural song sparrows. His dissertation will focus on how nestling development is affected by differences in adult food choice, showcasing the impact that urbanization has on even the hardiest of species.  Isaac received a B.S in terrestrial wildlife biology from the University of Montana in 2016. While taking just about every terrestrial class that had a field lab, he began to develop a passion for field work. During his undergraduate degree Isaac assisted on bio-acoustic projects focused on how birds communicate differing threat levels to a mixed flock, and how this communication propagated through different habitat types. He also spent two summers evaluating the nesting success of the Lewis’ woodpecker in burned vs. riparian forests.

After graduating, Isaac worked for the U.S. Forest Service on the Malheur National Forest as a field technician studying nesting success, occupancy, and abundance of white-headed, black-backed, and Lewis’ woodpeckers. The question being asked was: “How does salvage logging affect woodpecker populations in burned forest?”, which had great conservation implications that the public did not always agree with. Seeing this disconnect between the science, resource management strategies, and public opinion, Isaac joined the IGC with the hope to gain the necessary skills to bridge the gaps in communication between these different stakeholders.