Research & Projects
The focus of research for the mammalogy program is to improve our knowledge of mammal faunal ecology and evolution. In general, research projects involve field-based studies and specimen or sample collection combined with laboratory work and computer-based modeling and analysis. In addition, the mammology program opportunistically collects and preserves mammal species from across the province to document regionally specific species diversity. Current research projects can be grouped into four non-mutually exclusive themes that center on bettering our understanding of the processes influencing species distribution and resource use, habitat island biogeography and community ecology, morphological variation, and the changing human relationship with nature.
Species distribution and resource use
Niche partitioning behaviour among sympatric species: We are using museum-curated specimens of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and black bears (Ursus americanus) collected from across Alberta to identify geographically based dietary differences. How contemporary patterns of species distributions have evolved remains a challenging question that is fundamental to understanding population and community ecology.
Ecology of grizzly bears in Canada's Arctic: In collaboration with Dr. Andrew Derocher, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta (DBS-UA), we are examining resource and habitat use of barren-ground grizzly bears to assess how increasing levels of industrial development and human activity, and climate change may be influencing how these animals exist in a landscape that is characteristically poor in high quality resource availability.
In addition, we are also investigating how changes in the availability of and use of resources on the landscape relate to individual and population health.
Diet variation among Arctic grey wolves: In collaboration with Marsha Branigan, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Government of Northwest Territories, we are examining how variation in diet among individual Arctic grey wolves (Canis lupus) and the influence that geographic location and availability of high quality marine protein may have on the health of the pack.
Ecology of urban coyotes: In more urban landscapes, changing patterns of habitat and resource use may result from human-related disturbance, which can lead to increased occurrences of human-wildlife interactions. To better understand this behaviour further, we are collaborating with Dr. Colleen St Clair (DBS-UA) to examine the ecology of urban coyotes (Canis latrans) in Edmonton municipal area, by quantifying habitat selection and movements, diet, and public perception, with the goal of enhancing public education to reduce the need for lethal management (Please visit the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project webpage for more information on this project).
Habitat island biogeography and community ecology:
Island habitat biogeography of red-tailed chipmunks: Along with ecosystems and species, genes have been identified as priorities for biological conservation because of the importance of genetic variation to population sustainability. For populations that occupy high altitude habitat islands, the size of the population and the level of isolation may correlate with the level of genetic variation and these island populations being more vulnerable to reduced sustainability. To investigate this further, we are collaborating with Dr. Corey Davis (DBS-UA) to examine the island habitat biogeography of red-tailed chipmunks (Tamias ruficaudus) in the West-Castle area of southwestern Alberta.
Community ecology of small mammals and fire succession in semi-forested sand hill ecosystems: In north-central Alberta, near Edmonton, semi-stabilized and stabilized sand dune habitats are pine-dominated and fire is important for forest succession and long-term sustainability. Fire often leaves behind remnant patches of habitat, which can provide refuge for small mammals during a fire and a source for species re-colonization post-fire. To improve our understanding of the ecology of semi-forested sand hill ecosystems we are collaborating with Dr. Scott Nielsen, Department of Renewable Resources (UA), to examine the change in community structure of small mammal populations relative to habitat patch qualities at different post-fire stages.