By Shannon Kachel
Photo Credit: R. Kulenbekov/Panthera/Kaiberen/NCMRD/SAEF/NAS/UW/SU
I'm excited and relieved to check in once again from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. This time I'm on my way home to Seattle. I return far from empty-handed, bringing non-invasive genetic samples of wolves, snow leopards and brown bears, as well as thousands of camera trap photos for some unfortunate undergraduates to plow through, and most significantly, for the next 20 months, five daily updates on the movements of F1, a 38 kg female snow leopard, who my partners and I at Panthera fit with a GPS collar, and by so doing kicked off our study of the ecological and behavioral dynamics among snow leopards, wolves and their shared prey. This was a first here in Kyrgyzstan, and came only as the result of months (and in some cases years) of dedication from an entire team of individuals from all over the world. With this hurdle behind us, we can finally get to the gnitty-gritty of the day to day science that will help us to understand and conserve this enigmatic species and the high mountains ecosystems it calls home.
Photo Credit: Panthera/Kaiberen/NCMRD/SAEF/NAS/UW/SU
My collaborators and I will use camera traps and fecal genetics to estimate a range of population parameters for both wolves and snow leopards in a spatially explicit context - we will literally map the density of these animals as a changing variable across the study area, almost like a heat map in a weather forecast. Then, like any other landscape covariate, we can compare numerical patterns with the behavioral observations of our collared animals (again in a spatially explicit context). Behavior in turn will help us create maps of potential or naïve predation risk to ungulates based on the hunting and kill rates we observe. Taken together, these behavioral and numerical insights will help us to predict, test and understand patterns in prey behavior and numbers, as well as those of both carnivores. In an applied context, this information has potential prescriptive value to reduce carnivore-human conflicts and to identify key habitat components and configurations necessary for high mountain predators to survive.
By: Apryle Craig
Project Background: In northeast Washington, mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) may be trading off food and safety due to increased risk of predation from naturally recolonizing gray wolves (Canis lupus). Increased vigilance and the subsequent decrease in time spent foraging may lead to differences in fitness between groups or changes in impacts to vegetation communities as a result of trophic cascade. To test this hypothesis, my research team outfitted deer with video collars that record their behavior from their point of view.
Job Description: The Deer Behavior Intern will review video clips from the deer collars and record vigilance, foraging, group size, habitat variables, and other key characteristics in an Excel spreadsheet. The intern may have the opportunity to assist with other related projects in the lab as time permits. Reviewing the videos can be tedious and requires high attention to detail. An example of a video can be seen below.
Time Commitment: The intern will work 4-6 hours per week, on-site at our lab in Winkenwerder Hall at the University of Washington for the duration of the UW winter quarter (Approx Jan 4-March 11). Preferred schedule is 2-3 hours on Mondays and 2-3 hours on Wednesdays. Exact start and end date is flexible and weekly schedule is flexible (if you’re only available Tuesdays/Thursdays, don’t let that stop you from applying). Although the position is unpaid, independent study credit is available for UW students.
To apply: Please email your resume to apryle [ at ] uw dot edu, and include Deer Behavior Internship in the subject of the email. No cover letter necessary. In your email, please tell me what you hope to get out of the internship and what your preferred times are for Mondays and Wednesdays (or propose 2 other days and times). Thanks!
By: Apryle Craig
This summer, fires cut our field season short and threatened some of the vegetation plots we installed. While these possible impacts to our research were a concern, they were overshadowed by our concern to for lives, property, and livelihoods of the communities impacted.
Since the fires subsided, I was able to assess the impacts of the fire to the study. Some sites were highly impacted, others remained untouched. Many of the fences remained in place but will need reinforcing. The sites that were impacted by fire can no longer be included in the study in the same way. The plants may grow differently in the burned areas compared to unburned areas. I may use these sites to study the impacts of grazing on a fire-impacted landscape.
The natural world is always changing. It's one of the exciting and challenging facets of studying ecology.
By Aaron Wirsing
This past August, I once again joined colleagues from Florida International University and the Tetiaroa Society to learn more about the ecology of reef sharks in Tetiaroa, a remote French Polynesian atoll. Specifically, along with FIU biologists Kirk Gastrich and Jimmy Kilfoil, I deployed baited remote underwater video cameras, or BRUVs, to monitor the presence and behavior of blacktip reef (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and sicklefin lemon (Negaprion acutidens) sharks throughout Tetiaroa's inner lagoon. Some of our BRUVs detected lots of shark activity (e.g., see the video posted below of a blacktip investigating one of our baits). Ultimately, we'll use the data we collected over two weeks to model when and where these shark species are active in the lagoon. In future years, we hope to expand our BRUV work to Tetiaroa's outer reef, where the ocean is much deeper and we might detect more and larger shark species. For now, we thank the Seeley family for their generous support of our research in Tetiaroa and encourage you to stay tuned for more findings!
by: Apryle Craig
This summer, I started installing deer exclosures to investigate the impact of wolves on plant communities in Northeastern Washington.
Each fenced exclosure plot is paired with a nearby unfenced plot. The only differences between these two plots is the exclusion of deer, so the unfenced plot acts as a control plot to assess what the plants would be like in the absence of herbivory. Using this paired plot design in wolf-recolonized and wolf-absent areas, I can compare vegetation characteristics including plant height, species composition, percent cover, and age class.
Some studies have shown that the presence of predators may cause prey species to be less sedentary. When deer or other large herbivores move around more, the herbivory is dispersed and vegetation does not get browsed heavily in one spot. Alternatively, the risk of predation may have lead to concentrated herbivory if the presence of wolves causes deer to spend more time in "safe spots" such as near roads. If deer remain in one spot, the herbivory is concentrated and vegetation may become overbrowsed. In both of these two scenarios wolves could have an indirect effect on the plants by altering the behavior of their prey. A third possibility is that wolves may alter the behavior of deer, but those changes are not having any impacts on the vegetation community.
The fences are approximately 36 square meters and 6 feet tall, with a small gap at the bottom to allow smaller animals to pass through.
Along with my team of volunteers this summer, we were able to install 21 sites across our study areas.
by Aaron Wirsing
For the fourth year running, I've joined professor Tom Quinn (SAFS) at Lake Aleknagik in southwestern Alaska to sample brown bears exploiting the legendary Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run. Our study is noninvasive, relying on barbed wires strung across small spawning streams (see picture) to collect hair samples from passing bears. We then send the hair samples to Professor Lisette Waits, another of our collaborators at the University of Idaho, for individual genoptying, enabling us to determine how many bears use each stream. As we add more years to the investigation, we'll be able to ask a variety of exciting questions, including whether individual bears return to the same stream each year and if there is matrilineal transmission of foraging behavior (i.e., do cubs match the spatial hunting patterns of their mothers?). For now, we're off to check the wires!
Photo by Dean Adams
By Aaron Wirsing
The Washington Wolf Project is now entering its fourth year! This winter, beginning in December, we'll again be collaring deer to monitor their responses to recolonizing wolves. We'll also be testing whether the presence of wolves in eastern Washington is shaping the impacts of deer herbivory on plant communities and easing predation on fawns by suppressing coyotes (a major fawn predator).
For the first time, you can help us to understand the ecological and economic impacts of wolves here in Washington through tax-deductible donations to a University of Washington gift account that is specific to our lab. Your contributions will be used exclusively to support graduate student research in field. For example, gift funds will support aerial helicopter captures of mule and white-tailed deer for GPS and camera collar deployment, the analysis of wolf scat samples so that we can determine what the wolves have been eating, and the purchase of GPS collars for cougars so that we can monitor responses of these top feline predators to the renewed presence of wolves. We thank you for your support!
Graduate student Carolyn Shores and her research assistant Christina Bankert out monitoring radio-collared deer fawns (photo by A. Wirsing).
By Clint Robins
Canyon Creek, Snoqualmie Forest
“Do not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself."
- African proverb
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, pumas, or catamounts, are opportunistic hunters that typically stalk their prey before taking it down from behind. Cougars rely on cover to hunt successfully, and frequently make kills near forest edges. My research explores cougar kill site locations and their habitat characteristics to determine the extent of understory cover associated with successful cougar foraging along western Washington’s urban-to-wildland gradient. Results from the project will be used to assist wildlife managers in identifying habitats in residential areas that are associated with cougar hunting behavior as part of ongoing efforts to minimize cougar depredations and human-wildlife conflict.
The Cougar project’s 2015 field season is underway, with data collection taking place in the Snoqualmie and Markworth Forests. The study site’s proximity to Seattle (30 miles) allows undergraduates and volunteers to readily contribute to data collection. Currently, there are seven assistants working on the project. Volunteers learn how to locate cougar kills, navigate rugged terrain, use prey remains to determine prey age and condition, and quantify forest characteristics.
Connor Meyer at a kill by F4 (adult female)
Nick Ulacia at a kill by F8 (adult female)
The Predator Ecology Lab Cougar Project emphasizes volunteer contributions and uses such opportunities as a means of increasing data collection while disseminating information about cougar predatory behavior. With the help of volunteers, we hope to provide novel information on how predator behavior and landscape features are intricately linked.
by: Apryle Craig
This summer, I will be installing deer exclosures in wolf-present and non-wolf areas of northeastern Washington to investigate the impacts of recolonizing wolves on deer herbivory. At each study site, there will be two vegetation plots: one inside a fence protected from deer browse, and one outside of the fence exposed to deer browse. Each winter, deer consume woody plants that stick up above the snow. In the spring, I will measure the plants in all plots to see how much the deer ate during the winter. By comparing plants inside and outside the fences across wolf-present and non-wolf areas, I can determine if wolves are influencing deer herbivory.
Before I begin installing exclosures, I have to determine where to place them. I use mapping software called ArcMap to look at different land characteristics and property boundaries. If I find that deer in wolf areas do not eat as much of species x, I need to be sure it is because there are wolves there and not because all of my plots in the wolf areas in on north-facing hillsides. So, I use maps to make sure that hydrology, aspect, slope, roads, and plant communities are similar in the two study areas and that the only difference between the plots in the wolf-present and non-wolf area is the presence of wolves.
I also use the software to help with field navigation. I can use the software to export my survey points and import them to GPS units to find the sites in the field. I will also create printed maps.
By: Shannon Kachel
"Have you seen the snow leopard? No! Isn't that wonderful?" - Peter Matthiessen The Snow Leopard
Having traversed 13 time zones in 28 hours, I finally arrived in Bishkek, th capital of Kyrgyzstan. Here, I join an international team of biologists and conservationists from Panthera (panthera.org) and the Kaiberen Project (http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/08/19/kaiberen-a-legend-and-a-project-in-the-mystical-mountains-of-kyrgyzstan/) to launch a multi-year study of the ecology and conservation of large carnivores in the mountains of Central Asia.
Over the next few days, we will make the last of our preparations, then head high into the Central Tien Shan Mountains, where, for the next four months, the team and I will focus on deploying GPS collars on snow leopards and wolves in order to understand how these two enigmatic species coexist with one another despite relatively simple prey communities. In addition to trapping, we will use camera traps and non-invasive genetics from scat to build models of predator and prey population densities, and to document variability in ungulate behavior in relationship to predators. Finally, we will investigate the threats facing these imperiled species and work with high mountain herder communities to promote conservation solutions that benefit wildlife and humans alike.
For now, the Tien Shan Mountains beckon from the south, inviting and imposing.