Research in Conservation Biology
Conservation and management of biological diversity at genetic, species, population, and ecosystem levels, using approaches that incorporate technologies such as remote sensing, molecular genetics, and modeling, have been a strong focus of WEC faculty for many years. Focal points of this research include assessment of critical linkages across biological and landscape scales, habitat fragmentation, fire effects, invasive species, sustainable use of ecosystems, and the interrelations of cultures, economics, and political processes, all with a goal of increasing our understanding and identifying innovative practical solutions for dealing with the biodiversity crisis.
Examples of programs:
- Conservation genetic approaches and wildlife conservation (Dr. James Austin). This work incorporates of molecular tools with “traditional” approaches to studying conservation issues, such as the effects of fragmentation and land use on patterns of dispersal and identification of population units of conservation. Projects include assessment of the effects of habitat choice on demographics and genetic characteristics in Florida mice, identification of evolutionary significant units and management units in Florida bog frog and Okaloosa daters, landscape genetics of amphibians and freshwater fishes, and mating systems of American alligators.
- Conservation of Everglades crocodilian populations (Dr. Frank Mazzotti). This work focuses on the ecology and conservation of Florida’s two native species of crocodilians, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), in the Everglades. Specific projects include approaches for using alligators and crocodiles as indicators of health of the Everglades ecosystem, predator-prey relationships, influences of alligators on habitat structure, hydrologic relationships of crocodilian populations, and approaches to monitoring crocodilians.
- Ecology and Conservation of Mammalian Carnivores (Dr. Mel Sunquist). This work focuses on how best to manage mammalian carnivores, especially those whose populations are rapidly becoming isolated, fragmented, and existing within increasingly humanized landscapes. Research efforts emphasize an understanding of the species in an environmental or landscape context, against which future changes can be assessed or predicted. Specific projects include evaluation of the ecology and population status of tigers in a primary rainforest of peninsular Malaysia, the impacts of subsistence hunting on jaguar and puma populations in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala, and the population ecology of leopards in Satpura National Park, India.
- Effects of Fragmentation on Plant Population Dynamics (Dr. Emilio Bruna). There remains significant gaps in our understanding of the effects of fragmentation on plant population dynamics; this work seeks to address key knowledge gaps with a focus on conservation implications using a combination of demographic surveys, manipulative experiments, and models. This project uses populations of the Amazonian understory herb Heliconia acuminata in 13 permanent plots at Brazil's Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project as a model system for evaluating key questions. Specific projects include evaluation of the spatial dynamics of plant recruitment and the influence of disperser behavior, stochastic demography of plants in fragments and continuous forest, and effects of genotype and environment on plant growth and physiology.