Research interests and projects
My research focuses on understanding how changing environments impact animal behaviour. I am especially interested in projects that are ecology-based, have conservation implications, and use innovative technologies to advance what we know. Below you'll find a more detailed look at my research interests, the main projects I am involved in, research funders, and current affiliations.
Ecology is the study of how living things interact with their environment, including other organisms and the physical landscape. It is, for example, interested in questions such as, how much can animals adapt their behaviours to cope with changing conditions; why do species use space the way they do; and what are the consequences of competition between coexisting species?
As an interdisciplinary ecologist, I integrate fundamental scientific knowledge, advanced statistical modelling, and emerging technologies to understand how rapidly changing environments impact animals, from the individual to the population to entire communities. My research has predominantly focused on competition within large predator communities in sub-Saharan Africa. However, I am interested in a wide range of topics, including the impacts of climate change on human-wildlife interactions in systems across the planet.
Ecology can aid the conservation of species in a number of ways, including by informing on what resources species need to survive; describing the impacts humans have on the ability of species to survive; and by informing human management decisions, such as those around modifying landscapes or on hunting regulations.
I am interested in a range of conservation topics, including understanding how competition between competitors can impact their ability to coexist within the same areas and how human impacts on the environment might change this balance. For example, as species become restricted to smaller protected areas, will competition with other species impact their ability to survive? From a more applied perspective, I am interested in the role that citizen-science and technology can play in helping to monitor and conserve species (see 'current projects' below).
Technology is changing how we study animals in the wild. For example, camera traps are being used to investigate the space-use of entire animal communities over landscapes; GPS radio collars are giving fine-scale insights into what animals do when we're not around; and drones are being applied to increasingly innovative projects, such as collecting whale sneezes for DNA analyses.
I am particularly interested in conservation and ecology projects using novel technologies to push the boundaries on the questions we can ask. Most of my work to date has involved the use of bespoke animal-worn sensors to collect high-resolution data on how predators interact with their environments, but I am also interested in other technologies with ecology and conservation applications, particularly those that are open-source.
Impacts of climate on predator populations
Africa is home to some of the world's most charismatic large carnivores: lions, spotted hyaenas, leopards, cheetahs and African wild dogs. These species often occupy the same areas, eat the same foods, and travel along the same routes. Yet competition amongst these predators is often fierce, and encounters can end in injury or death for smaller members. It is only relatively recently, largely thanks to improvements in wildlife technologies, that we have begun to understand interactions between these species in any great detail. Using long-term GPS tracking datasets collected by the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, I am looking at how shifting climates impact interactions between these species. By analysing movement data alongside other sources, such as satellite-derived habitat maps, I am particularly interested in uncovering how climate shapes interactions between competing predators, the behavioural strategies they use to coexist, and the features of the environment that aid their coexistence.
Using citizen-science and technology for species monitoring
We are in the middle of a biodiversity crisis. Yet the resources we have for species conservation are limited and split amongst many competing priorities. Wildlife monitoring can help identify the species and areas in most need of attention, allowing for effective allocation of resources. Unfortunately, it is also often very expensive - placing us in a catch-22 situation. My recent research has shown that for some species and areas, data from tourist photographs can provide wildlife survey data comparable to more commonly used methods, but at a fraction of the cost. I am working to develop a framework to expand this tourist data-collection approach across multiple safari camps in Botswana. As part of this work, I am also investigating additional ways to reduce the costs of data processing and analyses using online citizen-scientists and artificial intelligence.
Current and past project funders
Washington Research Foundation
The Explorers Club
Wilderness Wildlife Trust
UW eScience institute
Mistletoe Research Foundation
The Alice McCosh Trust