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 Seminar: Fall 2015 Schedule!

The long-running Wildlife Science Seminar (ESRM 455 & SEFS 554) gets rolling this coming Monday, October 5, and as always the line-up features an incredible range of subjects, from conserving seabirds to coexisting with wolves and cougars in Washington (as well as two speakers yet to be announced). Professor John Marzluff is leading the seminar this fall, and he’ll be kicking off the quarter with the first talk on Monday.

You can catch the action weekly from 3:30 to 4:50 p.m. in Kane Hall 120. The public is welcome, so mark your calendars and come out for some animal intrigue!

Wildlife Science SeminarWeek 1: October 5
“Hot topics in wildlife science”
Professor John Marzluff, Wildlife Science Group, SEFS

Week 2: October 12
“DDT Wars”
Affiliate Professor Charlie Wurster, Wildlife Science Group, SEFS

Week 3: October 19
“A helping hand to nature: humans and cavity-nesting birds along the urban-to-wildland gradient of the Seattle area”
Jorge Tomasevic, doctoral candidate, Wildlife Science Group, SEFS

Week 4: October 26
“Interactions between wolves and deer in a managed landscape in Washington”
Justin Dellinger, doctoral candidate, Wildlife Science Group, SEFS

Week 5: November 2
“Streaked horned lark: The role of research in listing and recovery of an endangered species”
Dr. Scott Pearson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Week 6: November 9
“Coping in a human-dominated environment: good, bad, or indifferent?”
Dr. Chris Whelan, Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, Ill.

Week 7: November 16
“Coexisting with wolves and cougars in Washington”
Carol Bogezi, doctoral candidate, Wildlife Science Group, SEFS

Week 8: November 23
“Conserving seabirds: from islands to hemispheres”
Professor Peter Hodum, University of Puget Sound

Week 9: November 30
Talk TBD

Week 10: December 7
Talk TBD

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.”

 

Wildlife Science Seminar: Spring 2015

This spring, Professor Christian Grue of the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences is leading the long-running Wildlife Science Seminar (ESRM 455 & 554). The weekly talks will be held on Mondays from 3:30 to 4:50 p.m. in Kane Hall 120, and topics range widely—and intriguingly—from albatross conservation to amphibian genetics to animal welfare at a major research university.

The public is welcome, so come out for some animal edification!

Wildlife Science SeminarWeek 1: March 30
“The Trouble with Murrelets: Discovering and Recovering and Imperiled Seabird”
Maria Mudd Ruth
Author, Rare Bird: Pursing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet

Week 2: April 6
“Black-tailed Deer Movements and Reproduction in Managed Forests”
Clifford Rice
Research Scientist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Week 3: April 13
“Is Being a Force of Nature Right for You?”
Michael Cenci
Deputy Chief, Enforcement, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Week 4: April 20
“The Bear Facts in Washington State”
Richard Beausoleil
Bear and Cougar Specialist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Week 5: April 27
“Albatross Conservation in Commercial Fisheries”
Ed Melvin
Senior Scientist, Washington Sea Grant

Week 6: May 4
“Advancing Science and Animal Welfare at a Major Research University”
Sally Thompson-Iritani
Director, Office of Animal Welfare, UW

Week 7: May 11
“Challenges in Managing Washington’s Wildlife Resources”
Jim Unsworth
Director, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Week 8: May 18
“Seabirds: Beautiful Alive, Useful When Found Dead”
Julia Parrish
Associate Dean, College of the Environment and Professor, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, UW

Week 9: May 25
Memorial Day (no seminar)

Week 10: June 1
“Genetic Insights into Amphibian Population Ecology”
Caren Goldberg
Assistant Professor, School of the Environment, WSU

Wildlife Seminar Kicks Off Today

This afternoon, the long-running and much-esteemed Wildlife Science Seminar (ESRM 455/554) begins for the Autumn Quarter! The seminars are open to the public, and you can enjoy the talks on Mondays from 3:30-4:20 p.m. in Bagley Hall, Room 131. Check out the full schedule below and mark your calendars!

Fall Schedule

September 30
Introduction to Class and Why Crows Matter
John Marzluff, SEFS

Brian Kertson

Brian Kertson and a captured cougar in western Washington.

October 7
Shifting Paradigms and New Challenges for Conserving Washington’s Large Carnivores in the 21st Century
Brian Kertson, Carnivore Research Scientist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (for more background on Kertson, check out a profile we did of him a few months ago!)

October 14
David Lack and the Significance of Clutch Size in the House Sparrow
 
Ted Anderson, Emeritus Professor of Biology, McKendree University

October 21
Models, Mortality and Policy: Approaches to Urban Bird Conservation
Travis Longcore, The Urban Wildlands Group, Spatial Sciences Institute, University of Southern California

October 28
Living with Wolves in Ranch Country 
Suzanne Stone, Western Wolf Conservation Representative for Defenders of Wildlife

November 4
European Rabbits or Seabirds—Which Would you Choose?
Scott Pearson, Senior Research Scientist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

November 11
No class, Veteran’s Day Holiday

November 18
Assessing the Compatibility of Fuel Treatments, Wildfire Risk and Conservation of Northern Spotted Owls in the Eastern Cascades: A Multiscale Analysis
Martin Raphael, Senior Research Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Forest Service

November 25
Aren’t Parks Protected Habitats? So Who Turned the Chainsaws Loose in Our State Parks?!

Robert Fimbel, Natural Resources Stewardship, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission

December 2
Courtship in a Noisy World: Using Robots and Acoustic Arrays to Study Sexual Selection and Noise Impacts in a Threatened Bird
Gail Patricelli, Associate Professor, Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis

Photo © Brian Kertson