South Texas is home to the last remaining breeding populations of ocelots in the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that fewer than 100 of these beautiful neotropical wildcats remain at the very southern tip of Texas, inhabiting remnant swaths of densely tangled and highly diverse Tamaulipan thornscrub habitat. These isolated populations are vulnerable to a variety of threats, including road-associated mortality. Since monitoring of south Texas ocelots began in 1983, over 50% of recorded mortalities have been attributed to vehicle collisions. In collaboration with USFWS, M.S. student Greta Schmidt is revisiting ocelot mortality data to revamp a database of known road mortalities by linking these mortality sites with landscape and demographic predictors of risk. At the beginning of January, Greta returned to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, where the Ocelot Monitoring and Recovery Program is based, to pore over 30 years of ocelot mortality records in order to verify older (read: the 80s) reports, which involved a lot of fun time spent with a scanner and mountains of old datasheets! This will be the first part of her multi-faceted project exploring the viability of wildlife crossing structures as a mitigation tool to reduce ocelot road mortality risk and restore connectivity of ocelot populations in south Texas.
Bobcats are small carnivores that are widespread in the United States. Beyond a species of conservation interest in their own right, bobcats can also act as an indicator of functional connectivity. That is because bobcats need to disperse, have relatively large home ranges, utilize urban edge, and are resource selection generalists. If bobcat populations can move across a landscape, then it is possible that maybe other plant and animal species can too. If bobcats cannot move across the landscape, then it tells us that the landscape has barriers and is fragmented.
Julia Smith, a Masters candidate in the Lewison lab, is using bobcat genetics to learn more about landscape connectivity. Julia is building a dataset that uses bobcat genetic data from throughout Southern California, in collaboration with the National Park Service, the United States Geological Survey, Colorado State University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. By running microsatellites, a type of genetic marker, Julia will be able to see if there are any differences in bobcat dispersal through a gradient of urbanization in Coastal Southern California.
Many early career scientists think about how their research may affect policy decisions, but the process oftentimes remains mysterious. Every other summer the Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) hosts a two week long Ocean Policy Course with Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education (MARINE) for early career professionals that are passionate about solving ocean problems. The course consisted of students and professionals from across the country with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The composition of students immersed us in real-life collaborative situations. From role-playing scenarios, to writing public comment letters, we actively engaged with one another and built a community of future ocean leaders. Here is a video on the differing student perspectives about the course:
We began the course learning about the structure of ocean governance and several relevant laws including the Endangered Species Act, National Marine Sanctuary Act, and Coastal Zone Management Act. This gave us an understanding of the intricacies of laws and how they are created. The course moved on to explain what role our research may play in informing decisions and about the different processes involved in ocean policy. Oftentimes science is used to identify a problem and evaluate solutions in ocean policy processes, but this varies greatly depending on the specific process used to manage the issue you are addressing and the level of governance involved (i.e. international, national, state, regional, or local). If you are interested in dispersing your research results to policymakers, but don’t see yourself as an advocate, there are boundary organizations such as COS or COMPASS that focus on delivering science to decision makers.
Our last week focused on stakeholder engagement and communication. Stakeholder engagement is critical for identifying and incorporating perspectives from individuals or groups that may be affected by policy changes. Communication is a core component to public and stakeholder engagement and we had practice at this through various roleplaying, networking, and outreach activities throughout the course. I felt very honored to participate in the course and spend two weeks with such a fantastic group individuals!
Almost every ecologist looks forward to professional conferences -- and with good reason! It's a time to get additional feedback on our research, hear the most up-to-date work, meet others who are crazy enough to enter our specific field, and catch up with old friends and collaborators. If we're lucky, the conference is also in a fun location where it's easy to leave the computer screen behind. However, in-person conferences are often expensive, time-consuming, and not carbon-friendly1.
In the digital age, who says all conferences have to be in-person? In April, a committee of joint seabird researchers and Twitter users held the third-annual World Seabird Twitter Conference #WSTC3. The format is simple: each presenter has six tweets (140 characters each) to present their latest research during an assigned 15-minute span. Participants can attach fieldwork photos of study species, figures, animated GIFs, videos of data collection, or even make their own graphic novel. Beyond the social media formatting, the conference structure is similar to that of traditional conferences. This year, the committee added plenaries -- invited speakers who have 12 tweets in 30 minutes to present their work -- and a live chat via Google hangouts to discuss the plenary topics afterwards. Viewers can also easily ask questions or get in touch with the presenters by replying to their tweet presentation -- a great opportunity to get in touch with that researcher who's work you admire, or get idea for new projects.
Twitter conferences also have many other advantages beyond being low-cost and carbon-friendly. Ever wished you had taken notes or could see a figure from a presentation one more time? By searching the hashtag #WSTC3 on Twitter, I can easily re-visit presentations long after the conference has ended. Some scientists may find it easier to ask a question via Twitter than crafting an email, or standing up and speaking in front of a crowd at an in-person conference. Additionally, #WSTC3 puts me in connection with seabird researchers around the globe that I would not have the opportunity to talk with other than at a in-person conference. Twitter conferences are more accessible by researchers regardless of location or funding, so attendees are less likely to be biased by conference location. #WSTC3 hosted over 120 presentations with representatives from all continents, and #WSTC3 tweets have been viewed by over 3.9 million people. Talk about incredible reach! As the sole seabirder in my lab (not to mention my institution), I'm especially grateful for conferences that can foster a sense of community, even from afar.
Corey Clatterbuck is a PhD Candidate in the Joint Doctoral Program in Ecology (JDPE) at San Diego State University and UC-Davis. When not developing seabirds as monitors of anthropogenic contaminants, she usually dreams of being back on remote islands with her study subjects, where Twitter is often not an option. Regardless, she'd love it if you followed her on Twitter @Cocotross
MS Assistantship: Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at San Diego State University
The Conservation Ecology Lab (www.conservationecologylab.com) at San Diego State University seeks a self-motivated and hardworking graduate student at the M.S. level to conduct research on mule deer ecology and conservation through an assessment of population estimation techniques in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The goal of this project is to implement a population survey of southern mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus fuliginatus) in southern California and to determine how the efficacy of survey methodologies varies across terrain and vegetation. The research project will focus on applied conservation science, and wildlife, landscape, and quantitative ecology. Potential research questions may include topics related to setting conservation targets for local deer populations, identification of wildlife corridors to support deer populations, and how built landscape features (e.g., roads and urbanization) may affect mule deer demographics in southern California.
To apply, submit the following to Drs. Megan Jennings (email@example.com) and Rebecca Lewison (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Dec 1, 2016:
Tracy Grimes, a master’s student in the Lewison Lab, has spent this summer collecting data in Elkhorn Slough (located in Monterey County, California). The goal of this fieldwork is to understand the abundance and size structure of Dungeness crabs that utilize Elkhorn Slough as a nursery ground. She has been setting baited traps along the main channel of the estuary in seagrass and open (non-vegetated) habitat types. Below is a short underwater video clip of a trap in an open site.
Prior to starting her graduate work at SDSU, Tracy worked on the Elkhorn Slough Sea Otter Research Project (read more about this project here http://www.werc.usgs.gov/elkhornotters). Tracy is continuing to collaborate with individuals from this project and will use sea otter distribution and foraging data to better understand how otters are influencing the patterns seen in the Dungeness crab data. Check out the images and captions below for some highlights of the summer field season.
It certainly can. But how much of telemetry research - where animals carry devices that track their movement, behavior and physiology - is directly tied to improving management and conservation? A new study in Journal of Applied Ecology suggests that the growing and current conservation crises demand that we take a more pragmatic approach to evaluate the data required to make informed management decisions and how telemetry can best support applied conservation.
Undoubtedly, telemetry research captivates and engages the public and the wider scientific community. This research has yielded astonishing information about the amazing habits and behaviors of many difficult to observe species. Yet despite the revolution in telemetry technology and research, little of this information is directly used to support conservation and management actions, in large part, because of the disconnect between researchers and practitioners. But more can be done to connect telemetry to conservation by focusing attention on two critical questions which aim to directly connect telemetry-derived data to applied conservation decision-making: (i) Would my choice of action change if I had more data? (ii) Is the expected gain worth the money and time required to collect more data? To learn more, click here.
Worldwide, many sharks and rays (also called elasmobranchs) are overfished. These fisheries impacts are made worse because sharks also are caught as bycatch - some of these bycaught sharks are then discarded back into the ocean, while others are sold in markets. But records on bycatch and discards of sharks are notoriously poor. At issue is how to measure the total effect of fisheries which must account for the magnitude and extent of shark and ray retention (for market) as well as discards. Recent research in the Lewison Lab (collaborating with NOAA SWFSC and UNE) is working to take a bite of this challenging problem. Kelsey James (Univ of Rhode Island) led efforts to construct and analyze a large database of shark literature which reported catch and bycatch statistics from 30 countries, 306 elasmobranch species, totalling over 2000 records. This research is currently featured in Environmental Conservation
The goal of the research was to look for patterns in species retention and discards that could help managers navigate the complexity of estimating fisheries impacts on elasmobranchs. While variability in percent retained was high, we found that species type, fishing country, and gear explained nearly 60% of the variance. This suggests that while elasmobranch impacts in fisheries are challenging to track, even without data, we can make some inferences about the magnitude of total elasmobranch capture. When we compared our estimates to global landings data of elasmobranchs from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), we found that FAO landings may grossly underestimate total elasmobranch removals by as much as 400%.
Our work brings attention to the need to improve estimates of elasmobranch removal - to account for all retained catch and discards - and highlights the importance of continued efforts to monitor and report retention and discards of elasmobranchs.
Marisa Trego, a PhD Candidate in the Lewison Lab, recently presented preliminary findings from her thesis research at the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. She studies the impact of both known and unknown contaminants on wild marine mammals. To learn more about this collaborative research project check out this article featured in Science News for Students.
SOUTHWEST FISHERIES SCIENCE CENTER/ NOAA FISHERIES
The Lewison Lab