The “tug of war” facing urban wildlife: When to forage on human foods?

An urban squirrel feasting on its bird feeder treasures.

An urban squirrel feasting on its bird feeder treasures.

By Jerod A. Merkle

Human dominated landscapes can provide a food haven for certain species. Think squirrels and pigeons, animals many of us see almost every day. These species have adapted so well to human infrastructure and its seemingly endless bounty, that they can live their entire lives within cities with millions of people.

Of course, there are other species that also capitalize on foods available in urban areas.  But they do so with much less visibility.  In fact, they spend much of their time in more natural areas, only venturing into urban areas to feed.  In this case, think of animals such as raccoons, coyotes, and bears. Although the act of moving from wildlands into urban areas is for the most part driven by food, our understanding of how animals make these decisions is still not complete.  Understanding how and why these behaviors develop can help direct efforts to minimize human-wildlife conflicts.

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ScienceNOW Coverage of Ecosystem Dynamics in Yellowstone NP

Dr. Kristin Marshall measuring willow stems in Yellowstone National Park.

Dr. Kristin Marshall measuring willow stems in Yellowstone National Park.

Our very own Dr. Kristin Marshall is getting quite a bit of press these days. This past week, she published an article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences on the dynamics of riparian ecosystems following wolf re-introduction in Yellowstone National Park. This 10-year study concludes that the story of species interactions within the Park is not as simple as we once thought. Turns out, the beaver plays a crucial role in both willow growth and ecosystem functioning! Check out the ScienceNOW coverage of the story, and read Kristin’s own communication of her research right here.

Yellowstone wolves, elk, willows… and beaver

By Kristin Marshall

Everyone loves a good story. But all good writers know that a really great story is a balancing act between creating a trajectory that your audience can connect with, and including all the relevant facts and details. Stray too far in one direction and the story becomes overly stylized and not believable, too far in the other leaves you with a pile of facts and no story at all. The same can be said for doing science.  We want to boil down all of our observations to a simple theory that explains what we observe, but we also want to balance that simple theory with the complexity we know exists in the natural world.

This post is about finding the sweet spot in telling an important conservation success story: the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
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Orcas iced in: a hot topic in the frozen North

Photo credit: Jaime Ramos, National Science Foundation Ross Sea Killer Whale breaches in the Antarctic region.

Villagers watch as a killer whale surfaces for air near Inukjuak, Quebec last week. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Marina Lacasse)

By Guest Blogger Bethann G. Merkle

Last week, while the world watched with bated breath, a pod of orcas (Orcinus orca) swam in an ever-shrinking zone of open water. Each time they came up for air, frigid water sloshed onto the surrounding ice and froze, compounding the problem little by little. Much farther north than normal for this time of year, the killer whales were clearly out of their element. Continue reading

Conservation photography as more than just a hobby: Part 2

By Guest Bloggers Jerod A. Merkle with Bethann G. Merkle

In our last piece, we raised the topic of conservation research photography, and highlighted some potential uses: monitoring individuals, studying population dynamics, and researching behavioral patterns, to name a few.  We concluded with a ‘Pandora’s box’ of questions and issues facing associated with photography as a tool: photo database management, comparing and matching photos, assessing error rates, and figuring out how to apply it all to research and management questions.  What follows is a case study describing how Jerod has addressed some of these questions. Continue reading

Conservation photography as more than just a hobby: Part 1

By Guest Bloggers Jerod and Bethann Merkle

An Introduction to our Guest Bloggers:

Jerod is a wildlife research biologist who hails from Arizona and Montana and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Université Laval (Québec, Canada).  His wife, Bethann, is a communications consultant, author, artist, and educator who hails from Montana.  They became interested in writing for our blog, as they were “intrigued by the premise of the Early Career Ecologists blog because we are both under 30 years of age, work actively in ecology and scientific communication, and often discuss how important it is to communicate about this work across disciplines and beyond academia.”  Jerod and Bethann enjoy collaborating on personal and professional projects, including this article about one aspect of Jerod’s current research project.

Conservation Photography

Facial recognition in humans is important for identifying and monitoring criminal behavior.  For ecological conservation, identifying individuals is important for estimating and monitoring ecological parameters such as survival, reproduction, and habitat selection.  Ultimately, recognizing individual humans and wild animals offers social and conservation benefits. Continue reading