Hi everyone, my name is Alex Potash and I’m a PhD student in Dr. Robert McCleery’s lab at the University of Florida.

My research interest is primarily in predator-prey interactions, with a focus on how fear of predation changes prey behavior, and how these behavioral changes cascade throughout the ecosystem. For my dissertation research I am studying how predator community complexity (the variation in diversity and abundance of predators) affects ecosystem processes. For example, does a squirrel cache an acorn in a different place when there are only coyotes present versus when there are coyotes, bobcats, pumas, and hawks? This type of question helps us better understand the role that different groups of species play in the environment, which is especially important at this moment in time when we’re losing species, especially top predators, at an unprecedented rate.

I recently published a paper from my master’s research showing that fox squirrels perceive predation risk in the environment based on canopy cover (overhead trees) and wall cover (on the ground shrubs, grasses, etc.). You can download a copy of the paper for free here.

I’ve worked with and studied many different animals in a lot of different systems including carnivores in Vermont, grassland birds in western Illinois, urban wildlife near Chicago, jackals and caracals in South Africa, mountain lions and bobcats in the greater L.A. area, and squirrels in Florida and Georgia. I’ve also worked with ranchers in Montana and Wyoming to better understand how dogs can be used to protect sheep from predators like wolves, grizzly bears, and coyotes.

I’m here to answer any questions you might have about my research, wildlife, and what it’s like to work in the wildlife field.

This AMA is part of a series by the UF/IFAS Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

Proof!

Ok guys, Alex is done for this time. Thanks for all the great questions!--Social Media Manager Rhett

Comments: 609 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

oak1337417 karma

Why don't deer see cars as predators yet?

capkap77120 karma

I’ve seen different explanations but the most convincing (for me) is that headlights cause rapid pupillary dilation, momentarily blinding them.

Might also be freeze winning out in the fight-flight-freeze response dilemma.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs183 karma

This is generally what I think. The light blinds them, and they freeze waiting for their eyes to adjust.

Static_Variable170 karma

Do you agree with the statement that intelligent life is likely to be a found in carnivors than herbavors, because hunting requires more thinking on the part of the predator in order to catch the prey. Can you confirm or deny this from your observation?

Also have any predators that you observed show signs of intelligence with the use of tools/traps to catch their prey?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs254 karma

Great question! I don’t really think about carnivores and herbivores in terms of their intelligence, but I do think about their behavioral adaptations. Hunting is certainly a complex behavior, and it’s especially complex when we look at packing animals like wolves or wild dogs. But antipredator behavior is also pretty complex. Prey need to eat enough food to survive and reproduce, but they have to do so while being wary of predators. In general, prey can’t eat and be on the lookout for predators at the same time, so they have to find an optimal amount of both. This is literally calculus. We learn more about antipredator behavior all the time, and it’s fascinating to see how prey change their behavior based on cues in the environment. For instance, in the paper I just published, we found that fox squirrels show different behavioral responses to wall cover (bushes, tall grass, etc.) depending on the amount of overhead cover (trees, leaves, etc.). When there isn’t much overhead cover to hide the squirrels from hawks, the squirrels were less afraid when they had open sightlines, presumably so they could see a hawk and run away before it’s too late. But when there was a lot of overhead cover, squirrels were least afraid when they had lots of groundcover that hid them from predators on the ground. This has to do with how predictable different predators are depending on how they hunt, and the squirrels’ behavior is adapted to that.

I haven’t seen animals use tools, but I have gotten to watch them learn an experiment over time. As part of the study I just described, I was putting out small buckets of pecans mixed with sand to get squirrels to come to my experimental sites. Initially they wouldn’t come, but over time they approached the bucket and took a single pecan. The next day they took a few more, etc. Eventually they learned what time I would restock these trays with pecans, and I would consistently get pictures of them around the same time every day. This is also why it’s so important not to feed wildlife. I was doing a short-term experiment that required the squirrels to eat food I put out for them, but I made sure not to do it for so long as to completely change their behavior or make them reliant on me for food. If we do this around our houses or on hiking trails, animals can become habituated, and this can cause a lot of issues.

Jbliz2283 karma

What animal scares you the most and why?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs420 karma

People. If I'm out in the middle of the woods doing research, the last thing I want to run into is another person. I know why I'm out there, but I don't know why they are. That's scary.

Also moose. They're big, fast, and can be really aggressive if you get too close.

rgst824182 karma

You often see in sci-fi movies that the prey becomes the predator (animals that humans used to hunt suddenly evolve and attack us, putting us below them in the food chain). Have you seen any examples of prey that have evolved to become the predator of a species that used to prey upon them?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs86 karma

I think birdperson_012 has a great answer. Animals have adapted to their environment over millions of years, and evolution is a slow process. The body plan of an herbivore is very different from a carnivore; an herbivore is designed to find and eat plants. So switching to being a predator isn't really an option.

One exception that occurs to me is invasive species. I can't think of an example off the top of my head (I'll come back and reply if one comes to me), but I imagine there are cases of prey that become predators when they're moved to a new place. But that's not exactly the prey evolving to prey on their former predators.

Interestingly, more herbivores than you may realize are in fact omnivores. For example, squirrels will eat eggs and insects to get additional protein. In fact, one of my favorite papers is "Squirrels as Predators" by Callahan 1993. You might be surprised by what squirrels eat...

moss-agate53 karma

does "predator community complexity" affect predators as much as it does prey animals?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs113 karma

Great question! There are a lot of varying opinions on this, and that’s one of the reasons I want to research it further. Predators are definitely affected by other predators, and we see that in their behavior. For instance, there is a complex movement pattern between lions, hyenas, and cheetah where hyenas and lions follow each other, and cheetahs avoid areas where lions have been for at least 12 hours. We don’t fully understand all of these dynamics, but over millions of years, the prey have adapted to these predator behaviors. So, if we remove the predators, we start changing the way the ecosystem has traditionally functioned, and that can have further effects on things like rodents, plants, and much more. That’s one of the reasons we need to study these processes and understand them better.

jackofallchange50 karma

Hello and thanks for your time. What trends have you noticed in populations rises/falls in relationship to the presence of humans? Which populations are more commonly affected first when there are disruptions in the local community?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs100 karma

Thanks for your question! I don’t do a lot of population studies, but the effect of humans on wildlife is definitely an important issue. First, human presence, as in large development, is almost always a bad thing for wildlife. If we develop into natural areas then we take away important habitat from wildlife. That's going to cause a lot of populations to decrease.

Human presence, as in people hiking and recreating in natural areas is a little bit harder to address. It’s not necessarily bad for populations, but we do see effects. For instance, predators are actually more afraid of people than large prey, and researchers found that moose move closer to paved roads to give birth because it was safer from bears. This is called ‘human shielding’. Is it necessarily bad for populations? Hard to say. But it’s clear evidence that human presence is changing animal behavior.

I focus on predator populations, so I’m inclined to say that large predators which need a lot of space and prey are most susceptible to humans. But, we’ve also seen huge losses in insect and pollinator populations. Ecology is the study of how things are connected, so the loss of any individual species or group of species is bound to have an impact on another part of the system. Then that change will have an effect on another part of the system, and so on. We can’t always predict how a small disruption can cascade through an ecosystem.

simonsanchezart34 karma

Hello! In your opinion, what's the most useless and most intelligent defense system from an animal against predators?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs79 karma

Hi! Useless and useful really depend on context. That’s part of why I find this research so fascinating. For instance, fox squirrels are pretty good climbers, but if they get chased, they don’t always run straight up a tree. They usually run along the ground for quite a distance, and frequently stop to look back to see if they’re still being chased. If they think they’re well hidden, they’ll often just sit completely still. It’s easy to lose sight of them when they’re just a few meters away. So, sometimes running away can be a good strategy, but sometimes camouflage and freezing in place is better. Since most prey have to avoid many different predators with different hunting strategies, there’s rarely a single physical or behavioral adaptation that works for everything.

Invasive species have made some antipredator behaviors “useless” because the predator and prey didn’t coevolve over time. The best example of this that I can think of is the kakapo in New Zealand. The kakapo’s main defense is to freeze in place and blend into the background. That worked against native avian predators, but isn’t effective against invasive mustelids (weasels, ferrets, etc.).

NeverAware29 karma

Hello Alex. Thanks for doing this AMA. Is the story of the Yellowstone wolves true or a myth? For reference - https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/wolf-reintroduction-changes-ecosystem

IFAS_WEC_AMAs85 karma

I’m probably going to get myself into trouble with this one. This is probably the most contentious issue in my research field these days. To start, I’ll say that learning about wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone and the effects it had on the environment is what got me interested in wildlife ecology. I was planning on becoming a park ranger, but learning about trophic cascades got me to switch my focus to what I do now.

I am on the side that wolves caused a trophic cascade in Yellowstone, but that we’ve probably overstated their total effect. The story is that when wolves were reintroduced they changed where the elk foraged and what they foraged on (willows), which changed the trees that were available to the beaver. The beaver then had more trees and built new dams, which changed the aquatic ecosystem, which changes detritus pathways, etc. An ecosystem is a very complex network, and there are innumerable feedbacks. So we can keep going with the effects that resulted from reintroducing wolves. This line of thinking has also been applied to other systems with large predators, like mountain lions.

There are several controversies about this finding. First, recent research has suggested that the changes in elk behavior following wolf reintroductions were very short-lived, and that the elk have more or less gone back to their original foraging patterns. Second, elk are just one of the large ungulates in Yellowstone, and their primary food is actually grass, so their impact on tree communities was always fairly small. There are several other arguments but the last one I’ll point out, and this is more about trophic cascade research as a whole, is that much of the research comes from observational studies rather than experiments. Basically, researchers go to 2 different areas, one with apex predators and one without, and measure differences in the ecosystem. This is ok, but just because the 2 areas are different doesn’t mean it’s because of the predators. Correlation does not equal causation, but several studies presented their findings as such. A lot of trophic cascade research is now being scrutinized for overstating results that aren’t necessarily shown in the data. The findings may be right, but the data don't support such strong causation claims. The Yellowstone case is a little different because releasing wolves was an experiment, but a lot of the research that has followed since the reintroduction is correlational.

I think there’s truth to both sides of the argument (groan…I know). We have evidence of these “behaviorally mediated trophic cascades” in other, more controlled systems, and it’s completely reasonable to extrapolate from small experiments to large ecosystems, like Yellowstone. But, as scientists we rely on experiments for evidence, and the onus is on the scientist to design an appropriate study to test their hypotheses. Part of the problem is that we just can’t really do controlled experiments to directly test everything that happens at Yellowstone. This is an exciting area of research and I think we’re going to learn a lot more about these processes in the next few decades.

pronserver28 karma

What is the best deterrent when being preyed upon by a mountain lion or bear?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs90 karma

Just to be clear, people are very rarely 'preyed' upon by large carnivores. Predator attacks on people are incredibly rare, and on the rare occasions when they do happen it's almost always because the predator feels threatened and is just protecting itself. We are not naturally prey to these animals. But, this is a great question about how deer and other prey species manage risk from mountain lions, bears, and other predators!

I think there are several good strategies, but overall I’d say the best deterrent against bears and mountain lions is to be part of a group. More members = more eyes and ears, and that means a better chance of spotting the predator before it's too late. It’s also more intimidating to the mountain lion or the bear; they don’t want to attack a group. Also, larger groups reduce the overall risk to any individual. Basically, you only need to be able to run faster than the slowest member of the group.

The downside of grouping is that it means resources also need to be shared between all the members. This is one example of what we call the risk-foraging tradeoff. In general, animals can prioritize foraging (eating, finding food, etc.) or they can prioritize reducing their predation risk (scanning for predators, being in groups, etc.), but they can’t prioritize both. Prey need to optimize their foraging behavior so they can get enough food and avoid being killed. This is what I love about ecology!

BreastMelk25 karma

What is the most r/natureismetal thing you've come across in your research? Thank you for the work your doing to protect the world's ecosystems!

IFAS_WEC_AMAs99 karma

I spent way too much time thinking about this. The one I settled on isn’t even the most nature-y of settings, but it was pretty metal. We trapped a mountain lion by finding a deer she killed then wired pieces of the dead deer to the back of a cage trap. Mountain lions really like organs, so we took out the liver and wired that up too. Once the mountain lion went in the trap we approached the front of the cage. As we got close she turned away from us, bit off a big piece of the liver, turned back towards my boss and me, and then spit the liver in our faces and hissed.

Blaine40324 karma

With all your experience with wildlife, do you believe there are pro's to hunting? As long as there are strong conservation laws in place.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs70 karma

Of course! I think people often assume that conservationists are inherently anti-hunting, but that’s not true at all. A lot of people get into this field BECAUSE they grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping. Personally, I don’t hunt, but that’s more because I wasn’t raised doing it, and now I don’t have the time or money to learn.

Hunting has a lot of benefits to wildlife. First of all, a ton of North American conservation and management is funded through Pittman-Robertson funds from purchasing hunting supplies. Second, for a lot of people hunting is how they learned to engage with nature, and that's how people end up doing conservation. Third, in lieu of apex predators, we rely on hunting to manage populations.

There are plenty of good things about hunting. Effective laws that are built on good science are certainly needed, but overall hunting and conservation are definitely compatible.

qcfs21 karma

Wolves: I just went to a wolf sanctuary. They spoke about wolves picking off the sick and weak in a herd (of deer for example). My grandpa then shared with me a story about wolves killing all the calves in a herd of cattle, but only eating one of them. Does the approach to prey change if it is livestock?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs70 karma

This is another one that I’m going to get myself into trouble with. Wolves have become an incredibly polarized subject. Yes, wolves sometimes hunt livestock, and there are recorded instances of wolves killing large numbers of a herd but only consuming 1 or 2 individuals. However, this is much rarer than a lot of people think, but the stories remain fresh in people’s minds long after it occurs. In fact, studies have shown that things like disease are far more dangerous and costly to ranchers than predators. That’s not to say that predators aren’t a huge source of concern for ranchers. I’ve worked with these ranchers and I know how hard they work to protect their livestock, and livelihoods, from predators and other threats to their herds.

One of the projects I worked on used livestock guardian dogs to help protect the herds of sheep. Basically, these very large dogs are raised with the lambs and stay with them out in the fields. When a predator approaches, the dogs will get very aggressive towards the predator, usually only as a display, but we did see them attack bears on occasion. This technique has been used for thousands of years throughout the world, and it can help protect livestock, but it won’t solve the issue entirely. This is one of the biggest sources of human-wildlife conflict throughout the world.

pmurph13119 karma

Why do you say we are losing our top predators at an alarming rate when wolves, grizzly bears, coyotes, and cougars are all currently expanding their ranges?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs44 karma

In some parts of their range these species are expanding, but in others they are losing habitat as development increases. Range expansion in some areas doesn’t necessarily mean that populations are increasing. According to the IUCN, overall mountain lion populations are decreasing, while gray wolf and grizzly bear populations are stable, and coyote populations are increasing.

But, this is a North American-centric view of large predators. In a 2014 paper in Science, researchers reported that populations of 24 out of the 31 largest predators in the world are decreasing.

ShittyDuckFace17 karma

Hey Alex - I'm a second year Masters' student in the same field, studying olfactory communication. What do you think about the pay-to-publish and paywall issues in publishing within the scientific community?

Furthermore, how do you communicate your science to interested parties?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs29 karma

Hi! Honestly, I wish I had published enough to have a stronger opinion about this. For the few publications I have out, I’ve sought out journals that do not charge a publication fee. I just sent out a manuscript last Saturday and the deciding factor on which journal I sent it to was which one was cheapest. Certainly, charging people to gain access to knowledge is not a good thing for the scientific community, and it makes us as scientists look like we’re avoiding transparency even though it’s not up to us. This is one of the reasons I’ve put PDFs of my publications on my webpage; journals all have different rules, but from what I’ve read, hosting your paper on a private webpage is no different than giving someone your own personal copy. I’ll stick with that until I receive a cease-and-desist.

To me, communicating science to a broad audience is really fun. It forces you to really know your stuff. My dad was a history professor, and he likes to remind me that the sign of a true expert is someone who can explain their research to anybody, not just others in their field. For me, I start by talking about squirrels, because most people have seen squirrels and can picture their behavior. I also like to talk about fear, because that’s something else that people can relate to. Then we can talk about how scared squirrels respond differently than non-scared squirrels. Now we’re talking about optimal foraging theory and antipredator adaptations, but it’s all couched in scared squirrels. And in no way is this meant to be patronizing; in fact quite the opposite. I find that talking to other ecologists about my work tends to be circular, and good ideas can be hard to come by. But when I talk to non-ecologists I get asked questions that I had never considered, and it can be so helpful!

SleepsontheGround15 karma

This may be a little off topic, but did you listen to the This American Life episode called "Get a Spine!"? Act II which presents a researcher who focuses on Wolf Spiders and has shown that vertebrate research is privileged over invertebrate research.

Any thoughts?

I don't have a dog in this fight (pun intended) because I am in the social sciences, just curious.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs4 karma

I have not heard this yet, but I'll definitely listen to it later. Some of the most important research on predator-prey interactions has come from experiments on spiders (predators) and grasshoppers (prey). It's possible to do so much to manipulate their behaviors and environments, much more than we can do to vertebrates. I look forward to listening to the episode!

kjagey14 karma

Any interesting findings?

I attended a seminar a couple of years ago about predator migration over glaciers. It was thought the glaciers severely limited the migration of the Beringian Wolf to the Alaska area during the late Pleistocene era but DNA samples recently found in the National Trap Cave in Wyoming has proven that migration is possible over glaciers.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs7 karma

This is really interesting. I don’t know anything about this, but I’m definitely going to look it up. Thanks!

Y34rZer011 karma

Is the Honey Badger really as bad-ass as it seems made out to be?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs35 karma

There were honey badgers where I worked in South Africa. I never saw one, but apparently just a few days before I arrived a honey badger got into one of the cage traps. I was told that it just kept on eating the bait, and paid no attention to people trying to get it out of the cage. Eventually someone poked it with a stick, at which point it looked up, aggressively bit off the end of the stick, and then went right back to eating the bait. So the answer is yes, they are super bad ass!

Schekaiban11 karma

Why did you choose to pursue this career? Love your work!

IFAS_WEC_AMAs19 karma

I chose this career path because I love being outside, and I’m fascinated by learning how the natural world works. As I mentioned in a different post, I thought I wanted to be a park ranger, and I spent about 6 months working for the National Park Service in Utah. After that I went back to school to get a degree in environmental science so I could go back to the NPS, but along the way I learned about trophic cascades. I thought disentangling these complicated networks of interactions was the coolest thing, and I switched my focus then. No regrets.

Pmmesmallboobz9 karma

Would wolves effectively extinct north American deer if left without any culling? I know massive wolf hints have happened before and even in my area a sort of "open season" (though not exactly) has been initiated due to our high wolf low deer population lately.

But I've heard they would extinct the deer if left unchecked. Others have told me it would balance out and wolves would start starving before the deer were gone.

But although I believe nature will always balance itself, that balance doesnt necessarily preserve all species.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs21 karma

Based on what we know about predators and prey, I would expect your second hypothesis is correct. Wolves and deer coexisted in North America long before western expansion wiped out the wolf population in the 1800s. If wolves were left unmanaged, they would initially eat more deer, and the wolf populations would increase. But that would cause the deer to become more scarce. As deer become more scarce they become harder to find. As deer become harder to find, wolves will starve. This is what we call the population-driven system. But there’s a second system at work that we call a fear-driven system, and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that fear of predators is more important than the actual killing that predators do. Deer are adapted to wolves, and as wolf populations increase, deer become more afraid and change their behavior to stay out of areas where wolves are most deadly (out in the open). This makes it even harder for the wolves to kill the deer. Eventually, wolves will struggle to find any deer to eat and the wolf populations will decline as the wolves starve. Fewer wolves will cause deer to be less afraid, and the deer will go back out in the open because there’s more food out there. Deer out in the open are easier for the remaining wolves to catch, so now wolf populations will go up. And this cycle will continue. In the long term, both deer and wolf population will basically stay level out around their “carrying capacity”, which is basically the equilibrium population for both species. Both populations will periodically fluctuate, but generally they’ll be pretty stable. This is what we’ve observed in predator-prey systems around the world.

Karammel7 karma

If you were to recommend us your favorite non-fiction book on this topic, which book would that be (if any)?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs15 karma

This is the actually the third time someone has asked me this question in the last month. My favorite non-fiction wildlife book (probably favorite book of all time) is "Jaguar: One Man's Struggle To Establish The World's First Jaguar Preserve," by Alan Rabinowitz.

Syd_abdullah6 karma

What is your pay? (I know you're not supposed to ask a man how much he earns but I want to know that choosing my passion will pay my bills)

IFAS_WEC_AMAs10 karma

I’m a graduate student, so you can probably guess that I’m not exactly getting rich. Suffice it to say that people get into this field because we love what we do, not because we want to get rich. But if this is your passion, you’ll be able to make it work!

TheLoneRay6 karma

How can I deter foxes from tearing up my golfing greens? I have tried coyote piss and peeper flakes.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs20 karma

You could try putting up an owl statue near the greens. The foxes are likely digging around for small rodents, which are abundant on the greens because there’s so much grass seed. By putting up an owl decoy, you might be able to scare off the rodents, which will keep away the foxes. You could also try playing owl calls at night and see if that scares them (the rodents) away. Good luck!

kiran97236 karma

If every animal decided to become a herbivore(except humans) what would happen?

sorry if it's a dumb question just wanted to know

IFAS_WEC_AMAs10 karma

Interesting question. Humans are actually considered "super predators" in that even the sound of our voice is enough to scare off apex predators like mountain lions. But, I can't imagine every animals suddenly turning into an herbivore; carnivores are built to digest meat, not plants.

But, maybe a better way to look at your question is to ask what would happen if all predators went extinct? Then all we'd have left is herbivores. Herbivore populations would grow unconstrained, and would likely consume most of the available plant matter. The plants that would survive would be unpalatable ones - plants with spikes or toxins. Think of all the feedbacks that would then result from the loss of plant diversity! The loss of predators would totally change our world.

Iamjimmym4 karma

You're just the person I've been looking for! Ok, so I moved to a suburb of Seattle recently and there is a large, what appears to me to be a Golden Eagle that tends to hang out at the end of the dock on the lake. There are also (at least) two Bald Eagles that nest in the trees above my house. The Golden Eagle is the largest bird of prey I've ever seen out here, and I've been coming here for 30+ years consistently. When it opens its wings, it's wingspan is what appears to be more than half the width of the neighbors boat slip in their dock, which is 20-25 ft wide, so roughly 10 ft wingspan.

So my questions to you are (a) I have two small children, 2 under two, and a 42 lb dog who love to play on the lawn. Are they in any real or perceived danger when these birds are in the vicinity? Or are they satiated by the copious amounts of fish at their disposal in the lake? And (b) have I found the largest Golden Eagle ever?? This thing is mammoth. Roughly 36 inches tall standing on the end of the dock and that 10+ ft wingspan..

Thanks!

IFAS_WEC_AMAs18 karma

I did some quick research on this and here’s what I found. The average weight of a male golden eagle is a little over 7.5 lbs, and the average female is about 10 lbs. From a weight ratios standpoint, a golden eagle could probably carry a coconut (it could grip it by the husk), but is not able to fly away with your kids or dog. If anything, the dog is likely scaring the birds away. Predators generally hunt based on a search image – basically they only hunt for what they’re looking for, which is mostly rodents and rabbits. Medium-size dogs and children aren’t part of that search image. Smaller pets (cats, small dogs) could be at a low risk of attack, but it doesn't sound like you have anything to worry about. Enjoy the view of what sounds like a pretty magnificent bird!

glu7774 karma

What is your favourite animal?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs20 karma

From a research perspective, I really like squirrels. I never would have expected it, but squirrels are fascinating and just watching them forage for acorns in my backyard makes me happy. So much so that I celebrated finishing my masters by getting a fox squirrel tattoo.

From a "Planet Earth" perspective, it's the snow leopard.

slamdunktiger864 karma

Just curious, do you hunt by any chance?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs4 karma

I do not, but I am generally pro hunting. Lots of people in the wildlife field are hunters, and that's how a lot of people learn to love the outdoors! I would really like to try it out, but I don't have the time or money right now.

_esme_3 karma

I'm from southern Connecticut, where we've been experiencing a pretty noticeable resurgence in predators in recent years - coyotes, black bears, especially. There was also a lone cougar which made its way from out West a few years ago, almost to the coast. We have a positively booming deer population and low rates of hunting, which I personally believe is responsible for the increase. Can you comment on how you see the future of these trends, especially the interaction between increasing predators and prey, and the interaction between humans and predators?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs4 karma

I remember when that mountain lion made it to Connecticut! That individual dispersed all the way from South Dakota!

Hunting is generally declining in the U.S. This is a problem because, as you said, deer populations are booming in the absence of predators. In the northeast, coyotes are capable of killing fawns, so there is some top-down control, but generally we rely on hunting to manage our deer populations.

Jglide253 karma

Which ecosystem you've seen has fascinated you the most? Why?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs6 karma

I think the ecosystem that's fascinated me the most is the Mediterranean-type ecosystem, which is found in a few coastal areas around the world. The reason it's so fascinating to me is because I first experienced in South Africa, where I was working in an incredibly remote area. When I got back from South Africa I took an internship in Southern California, which also has a Mediterranean-type ecosystem, but is a human-dominated part of the world. In South Africa I was studying leopards, caracals, and jackals, and in California I was studying mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes. It was amazing to experience these two ecosystems that were so similar, but also so different!

barracudabones3 karma

Have you noticed or studied the impact of noise pollution in predator/prey relationships? Are prey less inclined to hunt for food due to increased noise? Or are predators unable to use some hunting strategies due to conflicting noise (are they able to use hearing to hunt prey or are they not able to filter out superfluous noise from prey)? Thank you for your time!!!

IFAS_WEC_AMAs3 karma

I haven't studied the impact of noise pollution on predator/prey relationships, but it's definitely something that needs to be investigated. An interesting study came out a few years ago that showed that migrating birds exposed to road noise were in significantly worse body condition than birds not exposed to road noise. It turns out this is because the birds exposed to noise picked their head up more often than other birds, just as they do to scan for predators, something we call vigilance. So yes, road noise is affecting predator-prey relationships.

XC_Griff2 karma

How did you first get into the trade? Im looking to be an ecologist myself after college but Im thinking of trying to get an internship and getting a job in the national parks system.

IFAS_WEC_AMAs4 karma

I first got into wildlife work while I was an undergraduate. In between classes I volunteered for a graduate student at my university and got to do some field work setting out remote cameras. After that, I started working field jobs, mostly for 3-4 months at a time, then moving on to a new field job. That’s how I’ve worked with so many different species and in so many places. Eventually I had built up my skill set enough that I was able to go to graduate school, which is where I am today.

It sounds like you’re on the right path. Definitely look for internships, but also see if there are opportunities for you to work on projects while you’re in college. Graduate students always need help, and it’s a great way to develop skills that you can’t always get in a classroom.

FreyaFailsAtLife2 karma

What is your favourite animal and why? What is your least favourite animal and why?

IFAS_WEC_AMAs3 karma

From earlier:

From a research perspective, I really like squirrels. I never would have expected it, but squirrels are fascinating and just watching them forage for acorns in my backyard makes me happy. So much so that I celebrated finishing my masters by getting a fox squirrel tattoo.

From a "Planet Earth" perspective, it's the snow leopard.

My least favorite animal is the invasive python in the Florida Everglades. They are devastating one of the most unique ecosystems in the world!