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.

NSF Grant to Explore Coastal Temperate Rainforests

This February, Professor David Butman was part of a research team awarded a $500,000, four-year grant through the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network. The goal of the grant is to develop a research collaborative, organized as the Coastal Rainforest Margins Research Network, to study the flux of materials from coastal watersheds to nearshore marine ecosystems in Pacific coastal temperate rainforests (PCTR).

2016_03_Butman1

One of the exciting possibilities of this grant, says Butman, is the potential to create foundations for larger projects in the future, including with the Olympic Natural Resources Center and Olympic Experimental State Forest.

Butman is a co-PI on the grant with two researchers from the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. Through a series of workshops and other collaborations, they will be working to quantify what’s happening now in coastal temperate rainforest ecosystems, identify critical areas of future research—especially related to a changing climate—and build an international community of scientists in similar zones around the world, including in Patagonia and New Zealand.

It’s a higher-level project, says Butman, designed to figure out what still needs to be done—data and concepts at the cusp of current science—to understand the connectivity between land, freshwater and coastal systems.

This grant targets PCTR ecosystems from coastal Oregon and Washington up through southwest Alaska. These ecosystems encompass the largest coastal temperate rainforests in the world, and they include the most extensive remaining old-growth forests in North America. They also experience tremendous freshwater flux and run-off, so understanding how carbon moves through these dynamic coastal margins is a huge part of this research—and a primary focus of Butman’s role on the grant.

“This region gets more water and rain per unit area than anywhere else,” he says. “Essentially from the Olympic Peninsula up through southwest Alaska, the area sees more than six times the annual output of the Yukon River, or three times the Mississippi. So much material moves from the land to the ocean here, so it’s an exciting opportunity.”

2016_03_Butman2

An important component of this research includes studying how warming temperatures and changing weather patterns will impact the long-term health of these dynamic coastal temperate rainforests.

The grant includes funding for four workshops, and Butman will be organizing the first this coming fall. It will focus on biogeochemical cycling, and he is currently reaching out to potential stakeholders and participants, from native communities to other scientists and natural resource managers.

Other major research questions the network will be addressing include: What are current freshwater and carbon fluxes in the PCTR, and how will these be affected by future changes in climate? How do forest communities, distribution and disturbance regimes drive current land-to-ocean biogeochemical fluxes across the PCTR, and how will climate-driven changes affect this flux? What is the relative importance of terrestrially derived materials transport for regulating marine ecosystem processes in the PCTR, and how will marine ecosystems respond to altered terrestrial biogeochemical fluxes? Is the PCTR a future source or sink of carbon under a changing climate, and can the insights gained about ecosystem processes in the PCTR translate to other coastal temperate rainforests? And what is the current and future contribution of coastal temperate rainforests to continental or global estimates of carbon sequestration and material fluxes across the terrestrial/marine interface?

Previous studies have explored some of these questions in parts or certain places, but the key with this broad collaborative is to organize a concerted effort to address information gaps and connect the dots—and to use this region as a model for understanding ecological processes in similar ecosystems around the world.

Photos © David Butman.

NSF Workshop to Focus on Lower Mekong Research Partnerships

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is sponsoring a workshop series focusing on U.S. research engagement in the Lower Mekong region (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar). The purpose of this workshop is to explore the potential for advancing our scientific knowledge through supporting research partnerships in the region.

If you are interested in research engagement in the Lower Mekong, you are encouraged to take a look at the RFP for the workshop. The NSF is looking for broad and diverse contributions from multiple disciplines, science and technology domains, and regional expertise.

The first workshop is coming up this September 25-26 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. The second workshop will be held in Vietnam at the end of November (with a separate RFP for that workshop coming later).

Also, don’t be discouraged by the travel distance: Invited attendees from outside the Washington, D.C., region will be provided with a stipend up to $1,200 to offset the costs of attending.

To be considered for invitation, please submit a position paper by email to the workshop chair (herbert.covert@colorado.edu). Due to time restrictions, the deadline to submit a paper is fast approaching on Sunday, August 23, and please share the RFP with anyone you think may be interested.

Alumni Spotlight: Cassie Gamm

Last week, we caught up with SEFS alumna Cassie Gamm, who graduated as an ESRM major in 2012 and is now in her first year as a master’s student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She had taken a year off school to research graduate programs, including options in Montana and Colorado, but she had always wanted to live in Alaska. So when she found an exciting opportunity to work with Professor Patrick Sullivan and study ecosystem CO2 exchange in the Arctic—a position fully funded by the National Science Foundation—she jumped at the chance.

Gamm, who grew up near Snohomish, Wash., drove up to Anchorage this past August and spent the fall taking classes. She had never been to Alaska before, and she’s loved exploring the trails that snake throughout the city, as well as the proximity to the mountains.

Cassie Gamm

Cassie Gamm motors back to her field site in Greenland.

At the university, working with the Sullivan Lab in the Environment and Natural Resources Institute, Gamm’s current research focuses on the dynamics of plant respiration in three dominant Arctic species in Southwest Greenland.

In the context of climate change, in particular, she’s investigating how warming temperatures and longer summer growing seasons will impact the ecosystem. Will increased leafy area with expanding shrub growth lead to more photosynthesis, making the region a carbon sink? Or will the thawing permafrost release more carbon than the new greenery will store? Great questions, and they’ve launched her down a new and challenging scientific path.

“Going to UW and the forestry school, we focused on big trees and studying ecosystems on a landscape scale,” says Gamm. “Coming up here to the Arctic, I’m now studying ecology more on a molecular level with respiration and photosynthesis. It’s been a big learning curve, but it’s also been really interesting to study a whole new ecosystem!”

In the Field
As for that new ecosystem, Gamm already completed her first field season in Greenland last summer. The field camp, made up of 8 to 12 researchers in tents, is about a mile from the Greenland ice sheet, and about 20 miles from the nearest town. There’s no running water, and they use water from a nearby lake for drinking and dish washing. The team shares a car to drive into town about once a week to access the Internet, take showers and buy any food they can find. Most of what they eat—lots of pasta and oatmeal, for instance—gets prepped and mailed out in boxes beforehand. And there’s not much locally in the way of fresh produce—maybe a potato or onion every once in a while—so cravings for fruits and veggies can get overwhelming.

“Oh man, it takes a toll on your body,” she says. “We’d talk about making gigantic salads all the time!”

Still, despite the stresses and privations of remote field work on the tundra, Gamm has taken to the research with gusto. “I’d never been to Alaska, let alone the Arctic,” she says, “and it’s awesome!”

Cassie Gamm

Here’s one way you’ll know you’ve arrived in the Arctic: signs alerting you to musk ox!

In fact, in case the Greenland experience sounds equally intriguing to you, Gamm is currently looking for a field assistant to join her out there this coming summer for roughly two months from late May to late August. You have until March 1 to apply, and there are quite a few perks, from the incredible hands-on research experience to getting to live in and explore a stunning Arctic ecosystem. That said, Gamm doesn’t soft-pedal the field conditions and expectations, so make sure to read the official posting and description below as carefully—and honestly—as possible before applying!

Ecosystem Ecology Field Assistant, Southwest Greenland
A field research assistant position is available for the summer of 2014 in Southwest Greenland. The field assistant will be working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to study the differential responses of grasses and shrubs (i.e. cycling of carbon and nitrogen) to a changing climate. The project is a collaborative effort between the University of Alaska Anchorage (Sullivan Lab) and Penn State University (Post and Eissenstat Labs). I am seeking a motivated and enthusiastic student with previous field experience. The research assistant will work one-on-one with me on my project examining both above and belowground carbon fluxes in grasses and shrubs. Duties will include taking accurate baseline measurements such as soil moisture and soil temperature, processing plant samples, data entry and operation of a Picarro isotopic gas analyzer. Experience with gas analysis is not required, but willingness to learn and troubleshoot technical issues is preferred. The field season will run from late May through late August. The fieldwork is based out of a tent camp about 20 miles from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Visits to town, which offers a wide range of amenities, will be made approximately once per week. Due to the remoteness of the tent camp, extensive camping experience and willingness to endure periods of poor weather is required. We are particularly interested in hiring college juniors or seniors who may be interested in pursuing graduate research in Arctic or Boreal ecology.

Travel from upstate New York to Kanger via the Air National Guard will be covered, as well as basic camping gear such as a tent and sleeping pad. The summer will be spent camping with a small group of researchers at a scenic site on the tundra about one mile from the ice sheet. Applicants should be physically fit and willing to learn and work as a team. A weekly stipend will be provided and compensation is dependent on experience level.

Please email a resume and cover letter to Cassie Gamm (cmgamm@alaska.edu). Review of applications will begin March 1 and will continue until the position has been filled.

Photos © Cassie Gamm.

Cassie Gamm