Research

Research in the WildCo Lab is motivated by the fundamental question of how best to conserve, manage, and restore biodiversity in a rapidly changing, human-dominated world. Our research aims to be grounded in ecological principles and quantitative rigour, while incorporating interdisciplinary perspectives that are a critical part of conservation science. We have diverse research interests that centre broadly on the applied ecology of terrestrial mammal populations, communities, and habitats.

Our current research themes include:

Mammal community dynamics in altered ecosystems

Despite their important ecological roles and socioeconomic significance, many terrestrial mammal populations are threatened by a range of anthropogenic stressors, including hunting, habitat loss, and climate change. Other mammals successfully exploit anthropogenic environments due to changes in habitat suitability or predation pressure. Wildlife management has typically focused on single-species assessments and actions, yet a fuller accounting of wildlife “winners and losers” is needed for effective landscape-level conservation. Our research looks across species, scales, and stressors to seek general principles in wildlife population regulation and community structure within altered ecosystems. We use multispecies survey tools and coordinated distributed surveys to capitalize on large-scale management experiments, both planned and unplanned.

 

Current projects under this theme include:

  • Responses of larger-bodied mammals to the cumulative effects of anthropogenic land uses in northern Alberta and British Columbia.
  • The effects of woodland caribou recovery strategies on mammal community dynamics.
  • The impacts of human footprint on mammal functional diversity across local, regional and global scales.

 

 

 

 


Coexisting with large carnivores

Large mammalian carnivores represent a particular challenge for wildlife management. They can generate significant support for conservation and their loss may cause cascading effects through an ecosystem. However, carnivore populations require large, interconnected habitats with abundant prey, and frequently create conflict with remote or expanding human communities. Coexisting with carnivores therefore requires a landscape-level perspective alongside effective approaches for resolving conflicts and mitigating risks to people and prey. Navigating inevitable trade-offs necessitates reliable information on carnivore ecology in degraded and managed landscapes, as well as on human behaviours and tolerance of carnivores.
 
 Our current carnivore coexistence projects include:
  • Understanding conflict and mitigation effectiveness for farmers and large carnivores on southern Vancouver Island.
  • Assessing coexistence between leopards and dairy farmers in Sri Lanka.
  • Density and distribution of brown (grizzly) bears within human-impacted landscapes in western Canada and the Caucasus region.
  • Carnivore connectivity and persistence in fragmented forests of northern Peru and southern Ecuador.
  • Andean bear conservation in Peru.
  • The effectiveness of protected areas for conserving lions, leopards, and other carnivores in West Africa.

 

 


Wildlife population estimation and monitoring

Reliable data on animal distribution and abundance are required to advance ecological inquiry and guide wildlife management. Data must be collected at appropriately large spatial and temporal scales to capture relevant processes for wide-ranging species and regional planning. Robust models are needed to project inferences into unsampled space and time, and inherent uncertainty must be transparently acknowledged and ultimately reduced. To strengthen inferences on wildlife dynamics, research in the WildCo Lab evaluates and integrates multiple sampling methods—including camera trapping, genetic tagging, remote sensing, and telemetry—and uses comparative analysis and simulation modelling to separate ecological signals from sampling noise. We apply advanced quantitative tools—such as spatially explicit capture-recapture and machine learning models—to disentangle complexities inherent in ecological data, and we collect new data designed to test model predictions. Our lab has a strong interest in improving the effectiveness of ecological monitoring and we are working to develop and implement a framework combining broad surveillance of cumulative effects with targeted assessments of hypotheses linked to management decisions. Our research also focuses on evaluating and effectively using participatory monitoring and citizen science to expand coverage and engage the public in wildlife science.
A key focus of our methodological research focuses on the effective use of camera trapping as a non-invasive wildlife survey tool. We are launching a new camera trap network to develop, test, and share rigorous methods for improving standardization and synthesis across camera trap studies.
Stay tuned for more information on the WildCAM network (Wildlife Cameras for Adaptive Management)!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Assessing and advancing conservation effectiveness

In order for our research to have the greatest impact, we strive to link our science to societal needs. We believe that wildlife research should be integrated with monitoring and management, such that potential management decisions are represented as hypotheses to be evaluated with predictive models and tested with monitoring data. An integrated cycle of prediction, monitoring, and testing can be used to optimize decision-making, for instance in regulating harvest or restoring degraded habitats. Researchers in WildCo seek to work collaboratively with government, industry, local communities, and other partners on long-term research that supports efforts to balance competing demands on landscapes and ecosystems. Examples include developing wildlife-habitat models for application to land-use planning, and testing wildlife responses to land-use decisions.
Our research also evaluates the effectiveness of protected areas, which represent a fundamental conservation strategy around the world. Many parks face mounting pressure due to increasing isolation and human impact, and there is a need to improve park effectiveness by detecting threats and identifying successful mitigations that work for both parks and people.  Our research seeks to assess the ability of parks to effectively conserve threatened species and communities, evaluate the outcomes of management strategies in and around parks (including community-based conservation), and anticipate broad-scale threats to park networks in the face of global change.