Adrienne Contasti -PhD candidate
I am a quantitative population ecologist who is passionate about conservation. Thus, my interests lie equally in: (1) understanding the factors that influence spatial and temporal habitat use by animals and (2) preserving the functional role that animals play in promoting or maintaining overall community dynamics (e.g., through plant-animal interactions). These interests are not mutually exclusive, and so I am concerned by the sometimes disconnect between ecological research and conservation practice. For my PhD, I am identifying the ways that human impacts such as hunting and habitat fragmentation alter habitat use and the functional role of mammals in tropical forests. My work assesses how human disruptions threaten not only animal population viability but also overall ecosystem function. My ultimate goal is to guide community based conservation efforts in developing countries by making the results of purely ecological studies accessible and understandable to the public.
Patrick Burke -MSc student
Habitat connectivity facilitates the movement of organisms through time and across landscapes, and maintaining connectivity (e.g. through wildlife corridors) is a popular and effective tool for prioritizing land protection. But how are connectivity and corridors affected when the entire landscape alters, for example through climate change? My graduate work investigates this question using multi-taxa connectivity assessment in the context of changing climatic conditions in the Greater North Cascades Ecosystem (Washington State and British Columbia). I use empirical field data in predictive dispersal models to examine the capacity of dynamic, heterogeneous landscapes to support connectivity for multiple carnivore and ungulate species in the face of changing winter snowpack and altered fire regimes. Both fire and snowpack impact local habitat suitability and dispersal, thereby influencing populations at multiple spatial scales. Empirical climate-connectivity research is critical so that we can continue to use habitat corridors to maintain biodiversity under changing conditions.
Mairin Deith -MSc student
Across the globe, many people rely on wild animals for sustenance. This is especially true in tropical rainforests, where bushmeat hunting provides a significant portion of rural peoples' diets. Due to population growth, increased forest access from logging, and the widespread use of firearms, hunted species that are relied upon for food and ecosystem services are disappearing from the forest. My graduate work focuses on developing reliable predictors of hunting pressure and using these predictors to test the efficacy of various sustainable hunting strategies. Specifically, I am exploring whether traditional resource management schemes can preserve muntjac deer, mouse deer, bearded pig, and pig-tailed macaque populations in Malaysian Borneo.
Shu Woan Teoh -PhD student
My research is part of a consortium working towards assessing biodiversity within a highly heterogeneous, mixed-used landscape. I am looking at the potential of the study site to support landscape connectivity. This is done by assessing the response of mammals to a variety of land use changes, and examining how hunting pressure varies in different land use types and affects mammal occupancy and site usage. The results from this study will be incorporated into a land use management plan for Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. My overall goal is to do research that is driven by conservation to address specific issues, and work with people on the ground to overcome those issues.
Peter Williams -PhD student
Animals move throughout their habitats to find and use resources. All resources are spatially distributed, and the patterns of distribution affect how animals select resources. But some resources, like fruit, fluctuate considerably through time. As different fruits ripen at different times, how do animals take advantage of the shifting availability of resources? And how are these processes of fruit-tracking affected by habitat fragmentation and degradation? For my PhD, I am studying frugivores in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. In the rainforests of Borneo, fruit is abundant and highly variable, and there are many species of frugivores. Most troubling of all, the dynamic fruit-frugivore processes that facilitate seed dispersal are threatened by land-use change.
Alys Granados -PhD
Seed dispersal by vertebrates is important for forest growth and regeneration, but human disturbance threatens this mutualistic interaction, with population-level consequences for plants and animals that are not well understood. I am studying how habitat alteration affects the occurrence, diversity, movement, and persistence of a suite of large mammal species in Borneo, and asking when this disruption matters for tree seed dispersal. Specifically, I am assessing 1) whether selective logging reduces the ability of forest vertebrates to spatially and temporally track fruit availability, 2) how the loss of herbivores affects tree seed and seedling demography, and 3) how logging affects seed dispersal via changes in animal behavior. My field work is in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, and uses camera traps, exclosure experiments, and behavioural observations.
Cheng Chen -MSc (now a PhD student at the University of British Columbia)
Protected areas are supposed to protect biodiversity, but they do not always work when humans can still access and exploit natural resources within them. Local people that conduct poaching and illegal resource extractions can have big impact on animal population. My project is to understand how law enforcement in parks and local peoples' attitudes towards conservation affect mammal conservation. I am camera trapping in several parks that have different management levels in Xishuangbanna (a tropical region in southern China near the borders with Laos and Myanmar). I will investigate the impacts of human on mammals by relating the biodiversity metrics from camera traps to levels of conservation enforcement of parks and conservation attitudes of local people (measured by interview surveys). The results will help us to manage protected area more efficiently.
Matthew Strimas-Mackey -MSc (now working at Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
Humans are currently altering the Earth's surface at an unprecedented scale and rate. These changes are particularly acute in the tropics, where rampant deforestation and forest degradation is driving biodiversity losses and contributing to global climate change. I am developing spatially explicit models of land-use and land-cover change to investigate the spatial distribution of tropical deforestation relative to underlying environmental and socio-economic factors. I use these models to refine extinction estimates developed under the island biogeography paradigm to account for spatial heterogeneity in habitat loss. In essence, my project is building on the concept of Systematic Conservation Planning (e.g., using Marxan software), by incorporating landscape connectivity and metapopulation persistence into the planning process.
Sam Yue -MSc (now a PhD student at Hong Kong University)
The expansion of oil palm into tropical forests is probably the single biggest current threat to overall global biodiversity. The oil palm industry is rapidly expanding and replacing rainforests in Southeast Asia. Yet, there is currently a dearth of knowledge on wildlife movement through and around oil palm plantations. My project investigated the habitat selection of mammals in these plantations compared to rainforests in Malaysian Borneo. Specifically, I used camera trapping in Danum Valley, a lowland dipterocarp forest, and nearby plantations to see how tree age, canopy cover, and road proximity affect mammal abundance and diversity. Results were used to map wildlife corridors connecting existing forest reserves through plantations and other altered landscapes.
Meagan Grabowski -MSc (co-advised with Charley Krebs; now working for the Yukon Territorial government)
Warming temperatures in the circumpolar have led to a 'greening' of the tundra, mostly led by tall shrub expansion. Implications of shrub proliferation include changes in plant community composition, changes in carbon storage, and increased nutrient cycling. But what is happening below treeline? Are warmer temperatures also contributing to shrubification in the boreal forest? For my masters I studied the determinants of shrub growth in the Kluane region of my home territory, the Yukon. I used dendroecological approaches to look for signals of herbivory (snowshoe hare cycles), fertilization experiments, and climate on shrub and tree growth. My broader research interests include northern socioecological resilience and local knowledge.
Graden Froese -Undergrad Honours Thesis student (now a PhD student at Duke)
Hunting is a major threat to vertebrate populations throughout Southeast Asia, including in protected areas. Unfortunately, the impact of hunting on many rainforest species has been historically difficult to study due to the elusive, rare, and cryptic nature of the affected species. I used camera traps and models that account for imperfect detectability to address this difficulty and examined the influence of hunting on a rainforest vertebrate community in Sulawesi, Indonesia, over varying spatial scales. Study species of note include the lowland anoa (an endemic dwarf water buffalo), Sulawesi warty pig, booted macaque, and blue-faced rail.
Kyle Crowther -Undergrad Honours Thesis student (now working in Ontario)
Kyle completed a BSc Honours in Animal Biology and did his honours thesis while assisting Alys Granados in her PhD project. The study was be conducted in Borneo within the Danum Valley Conservation Area. The project focused on the ecological interactions between vertebrate herbivores and fruiting trees, with an emphasis on seed dispersal. Kyle used behavioural data from observing animal-animal interactions regarding frugivory and seed dispersal to complete his thesis project.