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School of Natural Resources Research Seminar Series

Ecology and conservation of ungulate movement and migration

Date: Time: 3:30 pm–4:30 pm
Contact: Chris Chizinski,
Presented by Jerod Merkle, assistant professor, Knobloch Professor in Migration Ecology and Conservation, University of Wyoming, Department of Zoology and Physiology.

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Abstract: Our understanding of how wildlife move within their environment generally stems from ecological concepts and theory related to habitat. As a result, many studies assume that wildlife behavior can be explained and predicted through habitat characteristics such as elevation, temperature, land cover type, and/or plant biomass. Yet, wildlife behaviors such as site fidelity (i.e., returning to the same location over and over again) are not well explained by habitat characteristics alone. There is mounting evidence that wildlife have strong memory capabilities and use their memorized information to guide how they move through their landscape and choose where to spend time. In this talk, I draw upon my research, in collaboration with colleagues and students, to assess the relative role of habitat versus memory in determining wildlife movement and migration. By monitoring individual animals for multiple years of their life and analyzing how they behave relative to their previous experience, our research clearly shows that habitat characteristics alone cannot explain wildlife use of the landscape. Without understanding an animal’s past experience and how they use that information to make future decisions, our ability to understand and predict animal behavior is limited. I then assess how an animal’s memory plays a strong role in how they respond to anthropogenic change such as energy development. Memory plays a pervasive role in wildlife behavior, and studying how animals use their memory, and its consequences, will shape our understanding of wildlife ecology into the future.

Bio Sketch:
Jerod is an Assistant Professor and the Knobloch Professor of Migration Ecology and Conservation within the Department of Zoology and Physiology at University of Wyoming. He is also a research associate with the Wyoming Migration Initiative. Jerod is a quantitative wildlife ecologist with broad interests in understanding how the movement of animals relates to environmental heterogeneity and change, and how these interactions scale to population- and landscape-level ecological processes. Jerod’s specific research foci include movement and migration ecology, how cognition and innovation influence foraging behavior, and conservation and management of large mammals.

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