In the ecological theatre and evolutionary play, landscapes are the stage. All species must navigate time and space to find resources, avoid predators, outwit competitors, and find mates. How all of these pieces spatially connect is a primary driver influencing species' success.
As we extract resources we change the settings on this stage, thus changing the play. All ecological processes are affected by landscape change. In many ways, landscape change is even more pressing than climate change, though the two are inextricably bound.
My primary research goal is to understand how and why landscape change affects species, and how we can restore landscapes to restore ecological processes and landscape function.
I work in the vast western Canadian landscapes of the Rocky Mountains, Boreal Plain, and Interior British Columbia.
Carnivore populations span vast distances, as they are wide-ranging and require large areas to persist. This means they often suffer the greatest impacts from landscape development. Carnivore conservation and responsible development can coexist, but we lack the ecological knowledge to make this happen; we are trying to fill in these gaps.
I research carnivore communities to determine how species select habitats, share landscapes, and respond to human changes to the environment. This cast of characters include grizzly and black bears, wolverines, fisher, marten, weasels, wolves and coyotes, cougars and lynx.
Ungulates are mass drivers of change in ecological systems. They have substantial impacts on vegetation communities, and limit (or bolster) carnivore populations, so serve as the fulcrum in the trophic cascade teeter-totter. Ungulate populations have changed on continental scales over the last century, and these changes are manifesting in real-time in Canadian landscapes.
My ungulate research has three main foci. In southern British Columbia I research urban black-tailed deer. These species have profited from extensive landscape change here and we are examining population dynamics and looking for ways to manage populations through immunocontraception.
Across mainland British Columbia, moose populations have experienced significant declines. I work with biologists at the Province of BC to understand the mechanisms of those declines, to inform management plans to keep these amazing animals on the landscape.
In neighbouring Alberta, the highly clever and adaptive white-tailed deer are expanding their range north and west, into landscapes they haven't been before. This has caused sweeping changes to the carnivore community and competing ungulates. In a long-term project I study these effects to understand how a single species can upend the delicate predator-prey relationships in the boreal forest.
and recolonization of former ranges
Centuries of anthropogenic impacts have lead to species extirpations from former ranges. Restoration and reintroduction have helped species recolonize some of these ranges, but we know very little about how species respond to their old, now new, environments.
From sea otters on Canada’s Pacific coast, to fishers in the southern boreal forest, I examine how spatial attributes of landscape structure and community composition - including predators and competitors - influence species recolonization of old habitats.
and effects of climate change
Mountain ecosystems are ecologically and topographic complex, and expected to change markedly with climate change. We are examining multiple facets of mountain biodiversity in Alberta’s Willmore Wilderness: plant, bird, and mammal communities. We are testing some complex theories about how these species respond to natural landscape heterogeneity, and to other species in their community. We are using species-habitat models and oblique mountain images to quantify past landscape change and relate these to biotic communities, to inform forecasts of future climate change on biodiversity.
Species' Persistence in Complex Multi-Use Landscapes
Many landscapes are complex patchworks of natural landscape features, forests, and anthropogenic development such as oil and gas extraction, roads, forest cut blocks, mining, and recreation. Yet mammal populations, with some exceptions, persist in these landscapes. How do they do it? How does landscape complexity relate to wildlife distribution? We research the population and distribution of species ranging from white-tailed deer to fishers, and relate to landscapes with complex hierarchical models. This allows us to pinpoint the best predictors of species occurrence, so we can test ecological mechanisms and identify priority features for management. Though applied, our research is embedded heavily in niche theory and competition theory and seeks to advance these fields.
Camera Trapping, DNA, & Statistics