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School of Natural Resources Research Seminar Series

Social behavior, spatial ecology, and population dynamics of top predators

3:30 pm–4:30 pm
Chris Chizinski,
Presented by John Benson, vertebrate ecologist and assistant professor, School of Natural Resources, Nebraska.

Top predators are important components of ecological communities, and yet their populations are declining globally in response to a variety of human-caused stressors. My colleagues and I have been studying large carnivores across the world to understand their basic ecology, inform local management, and provide broader insight for conservation. I will begin by sharing some results from a global collaboration investigating drivers of cohesion, or the time that individuals spend together, within Canis (wolves, coyotes, dingoes, and jackals) social groups. Social cohesion in canids was strongly influenced by species, breeding status, season, and by interactions with other species – including humans. Second, I will discuss behavioral responses of mountain lions in greater Los Angeles to dramatic reductions in human activity associated with the California stay-at-home order during the Covid-19 pandemic. We found that mountain lions moved more efficiently with fewer humans on the landscape and relaxed avoidance of human infrastructure like trails and development. Our findings highlight that large carnivores likely suffer indirect costs associated with avoiding human activity during ‘normal’ periods. Finally, I share results from population modeling with mountain lions in two isolated, inbred populations in southern California where we simulated potential strategies for conserving small, isolated populations. Specifically, we evaluated the relative demographic and genetic benefits of a) immigration provided by highway crossing structures, b) translocation of animals, and c) artificial insemination. Collectively, our work highlights the many challenges facing top predators in a human-dominated world and provides potential solutions for their successful conservation.

Bio Sketch:
I have conducted research on wildlife populations across North America studying wolves, mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, moose, mule deer, bighorn sheep, white sharks, and many other species. I am motivated by a desire to inform conservation and management of wildlife populations and wild places – and by a fascination with the natural world. My work combines population, behavioral, molecular, and landscape ecology as I attempt to understand factors influencing individuals, populations, communities, and ecosystems. As a lab we conduct intensive field studies around the world, asking questions grounded in theoretical ecology and using quantitative approaches to achieve practical outcomes and contribute to greater understanding of basic ecology.

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