Sam Quinn

Me (right) and a hellbender (left) that we found at a site thought to be extirpated for 8 years.

B.S. Conservation Biology                2007    SUNY ESF

M.S. Environmental Forest Biology,     -       SUNY ESF

Area of Study: Conservation Biology

305 Illick Hall

Department of Environmental Forest Biology

SUNY– College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Syracuse, NY 13210



                      Cell: (845) 239-1297




My interests occupy a wide horizon spanning from conservation and spatial ecology to philosophy and mathematics, all of which I’ve been introduced to and given opportunity to explore at SUNY ESF.  My graduate research is a multi-scale examination of the pattern of Eastern Hellbender distribution in NYS and PA.  Eastern Hellbenders are enormous aquatic salamanders and are truly adorable once you get to know them.  I spend two months of the year in rivers lifting submerged rocks in search of the beasts (see right), and the other ten using GIS software and predictive modeling to study the distribution pattern of this elusive beauty.  I’m in the process of finishing my work.  My specific thesis objectives were to:

1. determine current Eastern Hellbender distribution in the Susquehanna River watershed of NYS,

2. compare local (in stream) habitat features at historically occupied and apparently unoccupied sites,

3. create a predictive model of suitable Eastern Hellbender habitat using a maximum entropy algorithm,

4. quantify the importance of landscape features (e.g. surface geology, land use) to Eastern Hellbender occurrence in PA.


           My work with Eastern Hellbenders is spatially oriented owing to my exposure to the discipline of Landscape Ecology here at SUNY ESF.  This is an approach toward understanding pattern and process on the landscape, in other words — how landscape pattern is generated and how that pattern affects species in an ecosystem.  This perspective makes natural phenomena tractable in a way not possible just a few years ago.  One cannot capture the “full story” without analyzing processes at multiple scales.  Our landscape study of Eastern Hellbender distribution has both strengthened established understanding of habitat associations and revealed previously unknown ecological relationships. 

           Recent advances in computing technology and mathematical theory have opened new avenues toward the study of natural patterns.  Fractal geometry is one such approach that allows for the mathematical description of nature with startling precision.  Since the development of mathematics many theorists thought natural patterns were chaotic because they could not be accurately described using simple geometric shapes.  Fractal geometry, which is best known for creating fantastic shapes made up of repeating patterns at different scales, is capable of tracing the order in nature.  Natural landscapes and individual organisms also display degrees of self-similarity which can be measured using fractal mathematics.  This new geometry can also be used in a GIS as an index of human impact on a landscape because the footprint of human disturbance fundamentally differs from natural patterns.  Fractal mathematics has also been used to model the biomass of a forest by measuring the self-similar growth pattern of a single tree and extrapolating up to the forest-scale.

           In addition to my more “traditional” science education, I have devoted much of my time toward the study of philosophies with direct conservation applications.  Most conservation scientists share an innate sense that all living things exist in their own right, but this can be difficult to communicate and often exacerbates conflicts in management situations.  A better understanding of disciplines such as phenomenology has allowed me to better translate my passion for conservation.  In addition, I have realized the importance of the often overlooked areas of conservation such as ecological justice, the conflict between indigenous societies and conservation goals, and the utility of traditional ecological knowledge to western science.  Much of the insight I have gained into the history of my sampling frame came from the records of indigenous people who occupied the land long before western colonization.  These alternative interests have made me a more well-rounded and (hopefully) a more effective advocate for conservation.  The burning chair pictured above is a symbol calling for philosophy to find practical application in the real world.  To me it also signifies the responsibility of the conservationist to brush up on her philosophy.





The burning chair, a symbol that philosophy has a practical and truly vital role in conservation - get out of the chair and into the world.

An expanding fiddlehead elegantly representing the complex patterns seen in all life.  This fern displays self-similarity, a phenomenon tractable using fractal geometry.

A highly fragmented landscape.  How are ecological processes are affected by this novel pattern?

A 3D tree created using a Mandelbrot fractal algorithm.

Terrace farming, an example of a practical application of traditional ecological knowledge.  This practice has particular importance for Eastern Hellbender conservation because it reduces the amount of sediment eroded into streams from row crop agriculture.

Searching for hellbenders using the “Peavey and noodle” technique.  The hellbender pictured above was found at this site.  This high quality hellbender habitat is now rare in NYS.

Land use types as seen in a GIS.  This NY stream once supported hellbender populations.  The water is now dark with silt and the bottom is embedded by sediment.  This may be related to the agricultural land (yellow and brown cells) that line the stream.