Conservation and Research

I seem to gravitate towards places with abundant large mammals and wide open landscapes; the majority of my work so far has focused on the sagebrush sea lapping at the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the tree-and-wildlife-studded savannas of Kenya. My work combines research and close partnerships with natural resource managers. Within the broad umbrella of large mammal habitat conservation, I've pursued a variety of topics, such as reducing the impacts of roads on migratory deer and pronghorn; African savanna community ecology; rangeland management and restoration; and understanding the impacts of invasive species and climate change on these systems. I am based in Lander, WY where I am the Director of Science with The Nature Conservancy's Wyoming chapter. I am also an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Wyoming's Department of Zoology and Physiology.

Recent News

Tiny Ants Have Lion-Sized Impacts

Back around 2010, when I was living in Kenya, I noticed a tiny ant, the invasive big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala), occupying whistling-thorn acacia trees (Vachellia drepanolobium) and realized this could have big consequences. That's because the big-headed ant was taking over from native ants that defend the trees against herbivores. But the big-headed ant provides no defense -- and my initial study, published in Ecology in 2015, showed that trees were being smashed by elephants at five to seven times the rate of native ant-defended trees. Following on that early work, my colleagues and I have spent the last six years uncovering more of the incredible cascading impacts of this little ant on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. In the most recent and most dramatic piece of this story, we found that the invasion negatively affects lions' ability to catch their favorite prey, zebras. How does that work? It's because all the elephant damage to trees in invaded areas creates a more open landscape that makes it easier for zebras to detect and avoid lions. In fact, lions are killing zebras at nearly three times the rate in uninvaded areas compared to invaded areas. We documented this story in a paper published in Science and it has been widely covered in the popular media, such as this Washington Post article and this NPR news clip

Wildlife Crossing Wins

Roads and their impacts on Wyoming's deer, pronghorn, moose, and elk have been a major focus of my work over the last ten years. Wyoming's big game migrations are legendary and inspiring in the incredible distances and terrain that migratory animals cover, but roads are often substantial obstacles bisecting their paths. I have mapped wildlife-vehicle collisions, studied safe and unsafe deer road crossing behavior in relation to traffic patterns, and studied the effectiveness of some of the potential solutions to make roads safer for big game and travelers. In 2018-2019, I joined partners from Wyoming Department of Transportation, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and other research and conservation groups to help set a strategic plan for action in the state. The collective work of many hands since then has scored some major wins. In fall 2023, nine new underpasses were completed in a long-time hotspot of collisions in the Big Piney region. Further, federal funding was secured to install more crossing structures in another major hotspot between Kemmerer and I-80. There is more work to do, but these successes demonstrate that we can work together to make a difference for conserving Wyoming's big game herds.

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This page last updated February 2024