Laura Prugh Receives CAREER Grant to Study How Wolves Impact Smaller Carnivores in Washington

Professor Laura Prugh was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant for $898,551—provided through the Faculty Early-Career Development (CAREER) program—to support a new project in northern Washington, “Integrating positive and negative interactions in carnivore community ecology.”

Laura collaring a wolf in Denali.

Large carnivores are key components of ecosystems, and as wolves naturally recolonize Washington, their presence could have cascading effects on a variety of species, including smaller carnivores, known as mesopredators. While wolves can reduce populations of mesopredators through killing and intimidation, they may also benefit these smaller carnivores by providing easy meals in the form of carrion. This study, in turn, will focus on the movements and population dynamics of two common mesopredators, coyotes and bobcats, as part of a collaborative investigation of wolves, cougars, deer and elk—with the ultimate aim of improving carnivore conservation and management.

“I’m fascinated by the fact that large carnivores provide food to small carnivores in the form of carrion, and yet they also kill small carnivores,” says Laura, an assistant professor of quantitative wildlife sciences in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS). “Scavenging and intra-carnivore killing have been treated as separate phenomena, but I’ve proposed that they are in fact closely linked: carrion could be an ecological trap that makes small carnivores vulnerable to being killed by their larger cousins. I’m looking forward to testing this ‘fatal attraction’ hypothesis and learning more about complex interactions at the top of the food chain.”

The project—which will run from June 15, 2017, to May 31, 2022—includes several collaborators, including Professor Leslie Herrenkohl from the UW College of Education; Professor Jonathan Pauli from the University of Wisconsin; Angela Davis-Unger from the UW Office of Educational Assessment; the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; the Alaska Native Science and Education Program (ANSEP); and Symbio Studios.

These partners will use a powerful combination of animal-borne GPS and video tracking technology, stable isotope enrichment of carcasses, fecal genotyping, and cameras at kill sites to jointly examine facilitation and suppression. This research will be integrated into a wildlife course at SEFS with 150 students per year—ESRM 150: Wildlife in the Modern World—by creating new inquiry-based labs using photos from carcass sites. In addition, this study will involve Alaska Native students in field and lab research in partnership with the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, and video vignettes about carnivore ecology will be created in partnership with Symbio Studios to reach 2 million K-12 students per year for five to seven years.

Photos © Laura Prugh.

A coyote scavenging a wolf kill site in Alaska. This study focuses on coyotes and bobcats as study subjects because they differ strongly in their scavenging activity but are otherwise ecologically similar.

Wildlife Science Seminar: Winter 2017 Schedule

This winter, Professor Laura Prugh is leading the long-running Wildlife Science Seminar, and she has lined up a fantastic slate of speakers. Subjects range from the Florida panther to golden eagles to the effects of fungal diseases on wildlife communities, so take a look at the schedule below and join us for as many talks as you can!

Wildlife Science SeminarThe talks are held on Mondays from 3:30 to 4:50 p.m. in Smith Hall 120, and the public is always welcome. (Undergraduate students may register for credit under ESRM 455; graduate students under SEFS 554. welcome.)

Week 1: January 9
“Wildlife conservation in Washington’s Cascades: a paradigm shift in the role of national parks”
Dr. Jason Ransom, National Park Service, North Cascades National Park

Week 2: January 16
No seminar

Week 3: January 23
“Spatial ecology of coyotes and cougars: Understanding the influence of multiple prey on the spatial interactions of two predators”
Dr. Peter Mahoney, Postdoctoral Research Associate, SEFS

Week 4: January 30
“Genetic introgression as a conservation strategy: past, present and future of the Florida panther”
Dr. Madelon Van de Kerk, Postdoctoral Research Associate, SEFS

Week 5: February 6
“Breeding ecology of golden eagles in western Washington”
Leif Hansen, Graduate Student, Wildlife Science Group, SEFS

Week 6: February 13
“Is the sky falling or is there an elephant in the room? Perspectives on how fungal diseases influence communities and population dynamics”
Dr. Tara Chestnut, National Park Service, Mt. Rainier National Park

Week 7: February 20
No seminar

Week 8: February 27
“American crow vocal behavior”
Loma Pendergraft, Graduate Student, Wildlife Science Group, SEFS

Week 9: March 6
“Megaherbivory, trophic control, and plant defensive landscapes in a savanna ecosystem”
Professor Jacob Goheen, University of Wyoming

Notes from the Field: Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains

From September 16 to 22, Professor Laura Prugh and her new postdoc, Madelon Van de Kerk, headed to the field in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. They were deploying remote cameras and snow stakes to monitor snow conditions as part of Laura’s NASA ABoVE project involving Dall sheep.

Laura feeling the chill of late September in , the largest national park in the United States.

The largest national park in the country, Wrangell-St. Elias features terrain that ranges from sea level up to more than 18,000 feet.

A major goal of this study is to determine how snow conditions affect Dall sheep movement and survival rates. So they put up 22 snow-monitoring stations in an area of the park where their agency collaborators will be putting GPS collars on sheep later this fall. Each monitoring station consists of a camera mounted on a t-post that will take a photo of a snow stake every hour all winter. Their ground-based snow monitoring will be used to improve a model of snow conditions based on satellite remote sensing and meteorological data. Then, combining this model with the GPS location data from collared sheep will allow the researchers to determine—for the first time—how snow conditions like depth and hardness affect Dall sheep movements.

Joining Laura and Madelon for the fieldwork were her co-PI at Oregon State University, Professor Anne Nolin, and Anne’s doctoral student, Chris Cosgrove. The four of them flew to the Wrangells in a small plane—a Piper Super Cub—to reach their little cabin, well above the tree line on a large, alpine mesa. They then set up the snow-monitoring stations along elevational transects, which Laura says was extremely challenging work due to steep and rocky terrain. Their packs were also quite heavy and awkward, weighing more than 40 pounds, as they had to pack around the steel t-posts, PVC snow stakes, cameras and two 16-pound post drivers.

“We all had pretty sore muscles,” says Laura, “but it was worth it! The scenery was breathtaking, weather was great, and we saw lots of sheep, pikas, ptarmigan and some arctic ground squirrels.”

Take a look at a gallery of photos from their trip, and also a great little video of Laura explaining the project while on site last month!

Photos and video © Laura Prugh.

The Wrangells team (left to right): Madelon Van de Kerk, Chris Cosgrove, Anne Nolin and Laura Prugh.

The Wrangells team (left to right): Madelon Van de Kerk, Chris Cosgrove, Anne Nolin and Laura Prugh.

 

Professor Prugh Hits the Field with Current and Future Grad Students

This summer, Professor Laura Prugh has taken two trips to the field—first with one of her current graduate students near Mount Rainer, and then to southeast Alaska with a master’s student who’s joining her lab and starting at SEFS this fall.

Mitch Parsons with a Microtus vole that he captured and ear tagged for mark-recapture density estimation.

Mitch Parsons with a Microtus vole that he captured and ear tagged for mark-recapture density estimation.

For the first excursion in June, Laura spent a few days south of Mount Rainier in Gifford Pinchot National Forest with her current master’s student, Mitch Parsons, and his summer field technician, Aaron Black. Mitch’s project is looking at trophic relationships of reintroduced fishers in the South Cascades. Fishers were reintroduced this past winter, and another round of releases will occur this winter. So Mitch is assessing prey availability using sign surveys and small mammal trapping, and assessing the occupancy of competing carnivores using camera trapping.

Then, two weeks ago Laura traveled to Glacier Bay National Park in southeast Alaska to check out future study sites for her incoming master’s student, Mira Sytsma. Using camera traps, Mira’s project will involve looking at how visitor shore excursions affect the activity of terrestrial wildlife. They spent three days on a research boat with National Park Service Biologist and project collaborator Tania Lewis, and they visited many sites—enjoying amazing wildlife sightings along the way, too, including a wolf with three pups, two brown bears, lots of humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, moose, mountain goats and even a porcupine!

We look forward to hearing how these projects progress!

Photos © Laura Prugh.

Laura (right) and Mira at one of the sites, with their research boat in the background.

Laura (right) and Mira at one of the sites, with their research boat in the background.

 

Wildlife Research Techniques: Photos from the Field!

This past spring, Professor Laura Prugh took her first turn teaching ESRM 351: Wildlife Research Techniques, a field-intensive course that involves several weekend trips to sites around the state.

Professor Prugh handling a garter snake.

Professor Prugh handling a garter snake.

Through a combination of classroom time and field excursions, the course introduces students to common techniques used to assess wildlife populations and their habitat, and also how to communicate observations through field journals. Students gain hands-on experience with species identification, non-lethal methods of capturing and handling a variety of wildlife species, and non-invasive methods of wildlife research that do not involve capturing animals. By the end of the quarter, they should be able to identify a host of regional birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and plants, and they should be proficient at keeping detailed field notes and have a basic understanding of the scientific writing and the publication process.

The four primary field trips included overnights at Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island and the Olympic Natural Resource Center in Forks, Wash., as well as camping at Teanaway and Mount Rainier. While at these field sites, students get to experiment with all sorts of skills and techniques, including radiotelemetry, learning regional birds by sight and sound (call/song), conducting rabbit burrow counts and small mammal trapping, field identification and capture methods for birds, amphibian surveys in terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and much more.

It’s an incredibly popular and memorable course, and one of the students in this year’s class, Kacy Hardin, set up a public Facebook group to capture scenes from their trips. The page offers a fun photo journal of their various research endeavors, with loads of great shots and clips, so check it out!

Photo of Laura Prugh with snake © Laura Prugh; photo of Laurel Peelle handling a Keen’s mouse (below) © Andrew Wang.

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Institute of Forest Resources Announces Four Research Grant Winners

This March, the Institute of Forest Resources awarded four grants through the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research program, totaling $374,877 in funding. After final approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these projects will begin during the 2016 Fall Quarter and last two years, wrapping up by September 30, 2018.

Read more about the funded projects below!

Awarded Projects

1. Sustainable Development of Nanosorbents by Catalytic Graphitization of Woody Biomass for Water Remediation

PI: Professor Anthony Dichiara, SEFS
Co-PI: Professor Renata Bura, SEFS

The present research proposes the development of a simple, sustainable and scalable method to produce high-value carbon nanomaterials from woody biomass. As-prepared carbon products will be employed as adsorbents of large capacity and high binding affinity to remove pesticides from hydrological environments. This project will (i) help mitigate forest fires by limiting the accumulation of dry residues in forest lands, (ii) create new market opportunities to transform the wood manufacturing industry and reinvigorate rural communities, and (iii) minimize potential exposure to hazardous contaminants.

Award total: $109,869

2. Trophic Relationships of Reintroduced Fishers in the South Cascades

PI: Professor Laura Prugh, SEFS

In 2015, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) began reintroducing fishers (Pekania pennanti) to the South Cascades. The west coast fisher population has been proposed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (decision due by April 2016), and fisher recovery is thus a high priority in Washington. Fisher habitat use has been studied with respect to denning and rest site characteristics, but effects of forest management and stand characteristics on establishment success of reintroduced fishers remains unknown. In collaboration with agency partners, we propose to study how forest structure and management impact prey availability, competitor abundance and fisher establishment in the South Cascades.

Award total: $99,679

3. High-value Chemicals and Gasoline Additives from Pyrolysis and Upgrade of Beetle-killed Trees

PI: Professor Fernando Resende, SEFS
Co-PI: Professor Anthony Dichiara, SEFS

In this project, we will convert beetle-killed lodgepole pine into fuel additives and valuable chemicals (hydrocarbons) using a technique called ablative pyrolysis combined with an upgrading step. We developed a novel and unique system for pyrolysis of wood that has the capability of converting entire wood chips into bio-oil. This characteristic is important for mobile pyrolysis units, because it eliminates the need of grinding wood chips prior to pyrolysis.

Award total: $109,861

4. Bigleaf Maple Decline in Western Washington

PI: Professor Patrick Tobin, SEFS
Co-PI: Professor Greg Ettl, SEFS

We propose to investigate the extent and severity of a recently reported decline in bigleaf maple, Acer macrophyllum, in the urban and suburban forests of Western Washington, and to differentiate between possible abiotic and biotic drivers of the decline. Specifically, we propose to (1) survey the spatial extent of bigleaf maple decline (BLMD) and record associated environmental, anthropogenic, and weather conditions that are associated with BLMD presence and absence; (2) use dendrochronological techniques to analyze and compare growth rates of healthy and symptomatic trees to further differentiate the potential roles of abiotic and biotic drivers of the decline; and (3) to link the data collected under Objectives 1 and 2 with previous  records of BLMD collected by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to ascertain the spatial-temporal pattern associated with BLMD in Western Washington.

Award total: $55,468

Wildlife Seminar: Winter 2016 Schedule

The Wildlife Science Group at SEFS is proud to announce the Winter 2016 line-up for the long-running Wildlife Science Seminar (ESRM 455 & SEFS 554), which kicks off this afternoon with Professor Laura Prugh. As always, the speakers will be covering an incredible range of subjects, from snow leopard conservation in Central Asia to salmon predation and pileated woodpeckers.

You can catch the talks Mondays from 3:30 to 4:50 p.m. in Smith Hall 120. The public is always welcome, so mark your calendars and come out for some fantastic seminars!

Wildlife Science SeminarWeek 1: January 4
“Enemies with benefits: Integrating positive and negative interactions among terrestrial carnivores”
Professor Laura Prugh, SEFS

Week 2: January 11
“Top carnivores on the roof of the world: Ecology and conservation of snow leopards and wolves in the mountains of Central Asia”
Shannon Kachel, SEFS doctoral student

Week 3: January 18
No class (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

Week 4: January 25
“Carnivore research and conservation in the North Cascades”
Dr. Robert Long, Senior Conservation Fellow, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle

Week 5: February 1
“Linking camera trapping and genetic sampling to study elusive wild cats: insights into carnivore ecology”
Professor Marcella Kelly, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech

Week 6: February 8
“Alien vs. Predator: Determining the factors that influence salmon predation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta”
Dr. Joseph Smith, UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Week 7: February 15
No class (Presidents’ Day)

Week 8: February 22
“Estimation of an unobservable transition: From dependence to weaning in the California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus)”
Jeff Harris, SEFS master’s student

Week 9: February 29
Talk TBD
Jack Delap, SEFS doctoral candidate

Week 10: March 7
“Pileated woodpecker habitat dynamics in a managed forest”
Amber Mount, SEFS master’s student

SEFS Involved in Four Major NASA Grants

As part of its Terrestrial Ecology Program, NASA recently launched the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). It’s a major field campaign in Alaska and western Canada—starting this year, and lasting 8 to 10 years—with the goal of better understanding the vulnerability and resilience of ecosystems and society to a changing climate in Arctic and boreal regions. In 2015, NASA awarded grants to 21 projects as part this campaign, and four of the proposals involve researchers at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)!

A Dall sheep ram.

Dall sheep ram.

New faculty member Laura Prugh had two proposals funded, including one as the principal investigator (PI) and another as a co-PI. The first, “Assessing alpine ecosystem vulnerability to environmental change using Dall sheep as an iconic indicator species,” will involve synthesis and modeling of Dall sheep population and movement data throughout their range, developing new remote sensing layers of snow characteristics, and conducting fieldwork in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The research will be funded for $1 million over four years.

The second project, “Animals on the move: Remotely based determination of key drivers influencing movements and habitat selection of highly mobile fauna throughout the ABoVE study domain,” will synthesize and model movements of moose, caribou, wolves and grizzly bears throughout Alaska and western Canada. Prugh’s role in this research will be to model the wolf and bear movements, and there is a $200,000 sub-award in the grant for her to hire a postdoc for two years to lead that work.

Professor David Butman is a co-PI on a third proposal, “Vulnerability of inland waters and the aquatic carbon cycle to changing permafrost and climate across boreal northwestern North America,” that focuses on changes to carbon biogeochemistry in lakes as a result of thawing permafrost. Specifically, the project aims to evaluate potential impacts in boreal and Arctic regions as permafrost thaw, climate warming and fire change the “plumbing” that controls water movement and distribution. The total award for this proposal is around $2.1 million, with $1.2 million coming from NASA and the other $900,000 coming from the U.S. Geological Survey. Of that total amount, around $110,000 will come to SEFS from NASA to fund a student for two years, and $30,000 will come from the USGS for summer support for Professor Butman.

The fourth SEFS project involves co-PI Hans-Erik Andersen, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and an affiliate professor with SEFS. This proposal, “Fingerprinting Three Decades of Changes in Interior Alaska (1982-2014) Using Field Measurements, Stereo Air Photos, and G-LiHT Data,” will explore changes in vegetation cover and composition over time to characterize the vulnerability and likely future trajectories of these landscapes under projected warming and scenarios of future disturbances. The project is funded at $334,564 over three years.

To have nearly 20 percent of the funded proposals in 2015 involve SEFS is a fairly remarkable percentage, and we’re excited to see how these projects progress!

Photo by © Steve Arthur.

New Faculty Intro: Laura Prugh

This past spring, we were thrilled to hire two new wildlife faculty members, Professors Beth Gardner and Laura Prugh. Though Gardner won’t be joining us until spring 2016, Prugh has already arrived in Seattle and is getting a jump on organizing her research program and lab for the fall. She and her husband moved down with their 4-year-old daughter earlier this summer, and they’re renting a place in Green Lake while they get to know the city. She has set up a temporary office space in Professor Aaron Wirsing’s former lab, which will be her lab starting in the fall. She’ll then move into her permanent office space in Winkenwerder 204.

Laura Prugh doing wolf captures in Denali in 2014.

Laura Prugh doing wolf captures in Denali in 2014.

Originally from Gaithersburg, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., Prugh joins the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) as a wildlife ecologist—with a special interest in the quantitative analysis of species interactions—after 3.5 years with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She earned a bachelor’s in biology from Earlham College in Indiana, and then her Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she studied coyote-prey relations in Alaska with Professor Charlie Krebs as her advisor. Prugh continued on at UBC for a postdoc with Professor Tony Sinclair, and she then headed to California for a postdoc position with Professor Justin Brashares at UC Berkeley.

Since arriving on campus, Prugh has been settling in and taking a couple trips back to Alaska, where she still has five graduate students finishing up their degrees. Two new grad students, along with a postdoc, will then be starting with her at SEFS this fall, and she will be carrying over a few of her long-term research projects. In particular, Prugh has a study in Denali looking at how wolves affect smaller carnivores like coyotes, foxes and lynx (she just submitted a proposal to continue and expand that research). And she has another project in California looking at grassland community dynamics related to precipitation and climate change—basically how kangaroo rats alter the impact of climate change on plants in the ecosystem.

She has begun preparing for her new courses, as well, which will start this spring with ESRM 351 (Wildlife Research Techniques), and then ESRM 150 (Wildlife in the Modern World) the following fall.

Trapping giant kangaroo rats as part of an ongoing study in California.

Trapping giant kangaroo rats as part of an ongoing study in California.

Future Research
As she gets to know more students and colleagues at SEFS, Prugh is excited to develop new collaborations and projects. One of those research interests with great potential applications locally relates to how cougars might affect deer-vehicle collision rates on Washington roads.

In her graduate course last year, she had her students organize a hypothetical research study to test whether the presence of cougars could reduce deer collision rates, and then model the likely economic implications of those reductions. They pulled together all sorts of data, from actual deer-vehicle collision rates in North and South Dakota, to deer population models and cougar predation rates, and ran a number of simulations. They also brought in an economist to calculate the potential savings of seeing fewer accidents. “It was pretty substantial,” she says.

One of the most promising results came from doing before-and-after analyses in some counties in South Dakota where cougars had recolonized in the past 10 years. Prugh says they found that cougars, once established, reduced deer collision rates by about 10 percent, which resulted in savings of $1.1 million annually. “That was really interesting,” she says, “but because it was such a large-scale and hypothetical situation, there were a lot of details we couldn’t look at, like traffic on roads, and variation and density in cougar movements.” (She has a paper on this research in revision with PNAS.)

Now, she’d love to follow up that initial work with a more detailed case study in Washington, where local partners—including Brian Kertson, a wildlife research scientists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (and a SEFS affiliate professor)—have already generated a wealth of data with collared cougars and deer.

Prugh’s arrival in Seattle earlier this summer felt a little different than when she moved to Fairbanks her first January, when it hovered around -40 degrees the whole month.

Prugh’s arrival in Seattle earlier this summer felt a little different than when she moved to Fairbanks her first January, when it hovered around -40 degrees the whole month.

With other research, Prugh is looking to start some work on the Olympic Peninsula to see whether coyotes—enabled by warmer winters and easier access to alpine areas—are driving the decline in Olympic marmots. She will also be setting up a non-invasive genetics lab within the school as a shared facility that will be available to students and faculty to use for genetic research.

Outside of Washington, Prugh just found out she’s been awarded two new grants from NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology Program as part of the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). She will be the principal investigator (PI) for one project, “Assessing alpine ecosystem vulnerability to environmental change using Dall sheep as an iconic indicator species,” which will involve synthesis and modeling of Dall sheep population and movement data throughout their range, developing new remote sensing layers of snow characteristics, and conducting fieldwork in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The research will be funded for $1 million over four years.

The second project, for which she will be a co-PI with Professor Natalie Boelman of Columbia University, will synthesize and model movements of moose, caribou, wolves and grizzly bears throughout Alaska and western Canada. Prugh’s role in this research, “Animals on the move: Remotely based determination of key drivers influencing movements and habitat selection of highly mobile fauna throughout the ABoVE study domain,” will be to model the wolf and bear movements, and there is a $200,000 sub-award in the grant for her to hire a postdoc for two years to lead that work.

In the meantime, Prugh is planning a family camping trip to the Olympic Peninsula, and then heading back to Alaska at the end of August to do more hare pellet counts. So keep an eye out for her this summer, and please join us in welcoming her to the SEFS community!

Photos © Laura Prugh.

Prugh especially enjoys winter fieldwork and studying carnivores in the snow. “I love snow tracking,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite things; you can see everything they’re doing. In the summer, it’s like you have a blindfold on. But in the winter, every animal around leaves a track in the snow. You can see where wolves are rolling around or playing in the snow, all kinds of things. When I was doing my graduate fieldwork up there, I would even have nightmares of it raining and all the snow melting away.”

Prugh especially enjoys winter fieldwork and studying carnivores in the snow. “I love snow tracking,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite things; you can see everything they’re doing. In the summer, it’s like you have a blindfold on. But in the winter, every animal around leaves a track in the snow. You can see where wolves are rolling around or playing in the snow, all kinds of things. When I was doing my graduate fieldwork up there, I would even have nightmares of it raining and all the snow melting away.”