High elevation meadow in the Bhutanese Himalayas
Two central tenets in conservation are – maintain what we have and restore what we’ve lost. These motivate me, although by no means do I believe important research needs to be applied. Questions about evolution, mimicry, behavior, and how historic factors shape the spectrum from individuals to landscape are as thoroughly fascinating as are single species –whether extinct (e. g. mammoths) or extant (e. g. long-eared jerboas or black rhinos).
As modern humans move forth, the sheer crush of humanity and our callousness is frightening. As I search for my way forward, I am motivated by conservation and finding ways to protect our planet’s spectacular diversity. This means understanding systems and species, their challenges, and proffering solutions. At the same time, while animals often have no true voices, people in developing areas find themselves caught between two worlds. It is somewhere along this interface, that I try to work.
What I do:
My interest is in targeting questions and problem solving issues in conservation biology. Actionable conservation is the goal, and science is one of many avenues in which this is achieved. I work primarily with species larger than a bread box, and thematically on population ecology, the behavior of predator-prey interactions (under a food web umbrella), migration, climate stressors, and persistence and restoration.
Among the key questions in my lab are:
- to what extent are ecosystem processes driven by top-down and bottom-up forces?
- What, if anything, might be done to assure the conservation of cold-adapted species? and
- How best might we dampen human footprints so that connectivity can be maintained or restored?
To progress, we mesh applied with behavioral ecology. Overarching, we use empiricism (descriptive and experimental) in the field and blend geographical approaches: contrasts with- and between populations, ecological or environmental gradients, and settings that vary across community membership.
The geographical scale is writ large – with current or more recent projects situated in the Northern Rocky Mountains, the Arctic in both Asia (Wrangel Island, Chukotka, Russia) and Alaska,, and some areas within central or high elevation Asia [Mongolia, China (Tibet), and Bhutan]. Why? The Northern Rockies possess the best chance for persisting intact ecological communities – including large carnivores and ungulates. the Arctic (and within Alaska) is vast, unpopulated and with plenty of challenge. Central Asia, also very unpopulated, has far fewer biologists per species than other areas, and it’s an area where my star-studded colleagues and I continue to work. Issues range from the proliferation of the cashmere trade which benefits herders but has all sorts of negative consequences for endangered species such as wild yak, saiga, chiru, Bactrian camels, and snow leopards.