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Russell Burke - Hofstra University. Hempstead, NY, US

Russell Burke

Professor of Biology | Hofstra University


Dr. Burke's current research involves diamondback terrapins at Jamaica Bay, wood turtles in northern NJ and the coyote invasion of LI



Russell Burke Publication




Student Research at Jamaica Bay Growth Rings on Terrapins Off the Trail with Ranger Powers- Episode 9: Invasive Species Diamondback Terrapin Turtles




Dr. Burke is primarily interested in the ecology, evolution, and conservation biology of vertebrates and the ecology of Lyme Disease. Most of the species he has studied have either been introduced species or rare species, thus population control (both positive and negative) is usually involved.

Currently, he has three major research projects: diamondback terrapins at nearby Jamaica Bay, the ecology of Lyme Disease on a continental scale, and the effects of coyotes on the ecosystems of Long Island. The terrapins face a number of interesting conservation issues, including decreasing salt marsh habitat, pollutants in the Bay, raccoon and plant predation on eggs, and rat predation on hatchlings.

Lyme Disease is fairly well studied in the places where human cases are high, but its rarity in the rest of the U.S. is an enigma. Burke joined a team of researchers from numerous institutions to investigate the biogeography of Lyme Disease in North America.

His courses at Hofstra include Ecology, Biostatistics, and Conservation Biology.

Industry Expertise (1)


Areas of Expertise (7)

Urban Ecosystems

Urban Environments

Suburban Spaces and Development



Conservation Biology


Education (3)

University of Michigan: Ph.D. 1994

University of Florida: M.S. 1987

Ohio State University: B.S. 1981

Media Appearances (9)

Coyotes spotted in the Bronx

FOX 5 News NY  tv


Biology Professor Russell Burke was interviewed by FOX 5 NY about coyote sightings in the Bronx. He said that for the most part they aren’t dangerous, are afraid of people and often change their behavior to avoid people.

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Coyotes are making Long Island their home

FOX 5 News NY  tv


The birth of four pups in Nassau County earlier this year marks a significant milestone for the coyote population on Long Island. Biologists expect the coyotes to easily integrate into habitats across Long Island and fully colonize within a decade or two. As for conflicts and confrontations, experts explain they can easily be avoided. "If we get people to not feed or tame them we have most of the problem solved," Hofstra University biology professor Russell Burke said. "When people see them, we scare them — make loud noises and they'll run away."

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Possible coyote sighting in Middle Island, experts say

Newsday  print


There they were — a couple of dogs in the middle of the road, ravaging a neighbor’s trash. Or were they?

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Coyotes born in Queens will multiply, spread to LI, say experts



“Multiple individuals will be dispersing and looking for new territory,” said Russell L. Burke, chairman of Hofstra University’s biology department. “Eventually, all the spaces on Long Island that can take coyotes will be filled. That might take 50 years, but by then we’ll all be used to it.”

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Diamondback Terrapins Thrive Where Others Can’t

New York Times  


A female terrapin lays one or two clutches of eggs, each containing anywhere from three to 18 eggs — if she is not hit by a car, waylaid by a roadside curb, tangled in vegetation or killed by a raccoon. Research conducted by Russell Burke of Hofstra University suggests that less than 3 percent of turtle eggs in Jamaica Bay survive; this is troubling in the context of an ever-increasing population of urban raccoons, but not unusual throughout the terrapin’s range...

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Turtles Lay Eggs And Build Nests at New York's JFK Airport, Causing Flight Delays

Nature World News  


The turtle population around Jamaica Bay had also been kept in check by raccoons, which are natural predators of the newborn terrapins. Dr. Russell Burke, a biologist at Hofstra University, hypothesized that something must have happened to the raccoons at JFK several years ago that led to the survival of those eggs that were laid in the area.

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Coyote breeding on Long Island 'inevitable,' researchers say



One goal of the group of 12 to 15 researchers is to prepare the public, letting residents know that, like raccoons and opossums, coyotes "are very afraid of humans and will stay as far away as they can get," said Russell L. Burke, chairman of Hofstra University's biology department. He is one of six co-authors of "Coyotes Go 'Bridge and Tunnel,' " a report on the value of starting research and education programs well before the creatures' mass arrival.

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Saving Salt Marshes for the Diamondback Terrapins


If you take the ‘A’ train to the end of the line in Queens, you land at Jamaica Bay, where salt marshes support endangered birds and rare turtles.

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Studying What Lures Turtles to a Tarmac at Kennedy Airport

New York Times  


But on that July day five years ago, Russell Burke, the chairman of the biology department at Hofstra University, said, “Something made a huge number of turtles come up to Runway 4L.” Two years later, it happened a second time. And on Thursday, a group of turtles appeared on Runway 4L yet again, despite recent steps aimed at keeping them away. For Dr. Burke, who has long studied the terrapins that live in the wildlife refuge, the reptiles’ repeated forays onto the tarmac are the subject of serious study. Shortly after the first invasion, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey enlisted him to help it come to a better understanding of the turtles and their mysterious ways. As part of that effort, he works closely with the Port Authority’s chief wildlife biologist, Laura Francoeur, who described the turtle takeovers as among the more vexing challenges confronting her unit...

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Research Focus (1)

Diamondback terrapins, wood turtles in northern NJ, ticks and Lyme Disease, coyote migration

Ecology, conservation, and sex determination of diamondback terrapins Ecology and conservation of wood turtles in northern NJ The effects of tick host species diversity on Lyme Disease risk Box turtle resources use and its life history implications The effects that the coyotes making their way to Long Island will have on current vertebrate communities Novel ways of estimating the number of vertebrates in an area; this includes using parasite densities to estimate local terrapin numbers, and using camera traps to count mammals

Courses (1)

General Ecology, Conservation Biology, Field Ecology, Advanced Conservation Biology

General Ecology Lecture on the basic principles determining the distribution and abundance of populations and species, including ecological tests of adaptation. Structure and relationships at the population, community, landscape, and biosphere levels. Emphasis on applied topics such as pollution abatement, ancient and contemporary climate change, pest and wildlife management, and human population growth. Conservation Biology Lecture and discussion of the basic principles of the conservation of biological diversity. Review of the main causes of extinction events past and present, sustainable development, and the importance of zoos and laws to species conservation. Field Ecology The study abroad class meets for two to three days on campus in the fall, then we head for Ecuador for about 20 days. This includes about 11 days in the Galapagos Islands and 3 days in the rainforest. Advanced Conservation Biology Lecture and discussion of the basic principles of the conservation of biological diversity. Review of the main causes of extinction events past and present, sustainable development, and the importance of zoos and laws to species conservation. Computer simulations to compare management/restoration strategies for endangered species and ecological communities.

Articles (5)

Why Lyme disease is common in the northern US, but rare in the south: The roles of host choice, host-seeking behavior, and tick density

PLOS Biology

Russell Burke, Howard S. Ginsberg, Graham J. Hickling, Nicholas H. Ogden, Lorenza Beati, Roger A. LeBrun, Isis M. Arsnoe, Richard Gerhold, Seungeun Han, Kaetlyn Jackson, Lauren Maestas, Teresa Moody, Genevieve Pang, Breann Ross, Eric L. Rulison, Jean I. Tsao


Ticks in the southeastern US search for hosts in different ways than those in the northeast, which accounts for the fewer human cases of Lyme Disease in regions to the south, according to a study co-authored by Hofstra Professor of Biology Russell Burke. The results of the project were published in PLOS Biology. Burke says that lizards are the host choice for ticks in the southeast US. In the US and Canadian northeast, where the lizard population is much smaller, Lyme Disease cases are more prevalent. In this area, mice and other mammals are ticks’ host of choice. Ticks like to feed on both lizards and small mammals, but lizards are much less likely to pass along the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The analysis also showed that southern ticks tend to stay below leaf litter (dead plant material on the ground) when seeking hosts, while northern ticks tend to climb atop leaves and twigs, making it more likely that they would bite passing humans. For more than a decade, Dr. Burke – with the assistance of graduate students Eric Rulison, Kaetlyn Kerr Jackson, and Breann Ross – has conducted field work at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Franklin Parker Preserve in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Undergraduate students have also been involved by analyzing collected data. Supported by the National Science Foundation Ecology of Infectious Diseases Award, the research study was led by Howard Ginsberg of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. It involved a total of eight field sites up and down the eastern and central US.

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Development of sexing primers in Glyptemys insculpta and Apalone spinifera turtles uncovers an XX/XY sex-determining system in the critically-endangered bog turtle Glyptemys muhlenbergii

Conservation Genetics Resources

2017 In species or developmental stages where the sex of an individual cannot be reliably identified through external morphology, molecular markers can provide a critical tool to study sex-specific traits that are elusive otherwise. Here we generated two sets of sex-diagnostic PCR primers for each of two focal turtle species with contrasting genotypic sex determination (GSD) systems: the wood turtle, Glyptemys insculpta (XX/XY), and the spiny softshell turtle, Apalone spinifera (ZZ/ZW). These markers identified males and females with 100% accuracy as validated with numerous individuals of known sex...

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Coyotes Go "Bridge and Tunnel": A Narrow Opportunity to Study the Sociological Impacts of Coyote Range Expansion

Cities and the Environment


Currently, Long Island, NY is without a breeding population of northeastern coyote (Canis latras var.), yet recent evidence of dispersing individuals on the island, coupled with the “dogged” momentum of coyote range expansion across North America, suggests a Long Island coyote population is close at hand. We highlighted the fleeting opportunity to takes advantage of this natural experiment by developing a multidisciplinary research framework to investigate the ecological and social impacts of the coyote, pre- and post- range expansion. We reviewed coyote spatial ecology, community ecology, and human dimensions research and identified three components of future investigation: predicting future occupancy, monitoring colonization, testing hypotheses of trophic cascades by leveraging and expanding existing ecological data, and exploring attitudes towards coyotes to better understand and mitigate human-wildlife conflicts. Each proposed component will integrate for a comprehensive investigation to advance theory and applied management of northeastern coy

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Cues Used by Raccoons to Find Turtle Nests: Effects of Flags, Human Scent, and Diamond-Backed Terrapin Sign

Journal of Herpetology

2005 We simulated nests constructed in an area heavily used by ovipositing Diamond-backed Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) and foraging raccoons (Procyon lotor), to investigate the cues used by raccoons to locate terrapin nests. Marking nests with flags did not increase predation rates, and human scent decreased predation rates. Raccoons seemed to locate nests based on soil disturbance, ocean-water scent, or a combination of these cues...

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Nesting Ecology and Predation of Diamondback Terrapins, Malaclemys terrapin, at Gateway National Recreation Area, New York

Journal of Herpetology

2003 We studied Diamondback Terrapins, Malaclemys terrapin, at Gateway National Recreation Area, New York. We found evidence of nesting terrapins at three locations within the Recreation Area and focused our research on the islands of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Female terrapins nested from early June through early August and oviposited at least two clutches per year...

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