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Dr. Dan Thornton's Mammal Spatial Ecology and Conservation Lab

CURRENT RESEARCH FOCI

FELID CONSERVATION

I am currently working on building a better understanding of lynx populations in Washington State and how they may potentially respond to climate and land cover change. This work includes extensive field work in Washington to examine lynx distribution, density, and interactions with other carnivores, and to develop a methodology for large-scale, long-term monitoring of lynx in the state. My lab recently started a second lynx distribution study in Glacier National Park. I am also working on transboundary coordination with Canadian partners to improve cross-border collaboration and integration of datasets. As part of this work, I am collaborating with Trent University on a project in southern BC that seeks to understand cross-border movement, niche ecology, and connectivity of lynx. Lynx work is being funded by NSF, USFWS, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Conservation Northwest, and Washington State University. My lab is also engaged in projects to better understand jaguar response to hunting and forest fragmentation in Guatemala and Honduras.

climate change

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Forest loss 1

CONSERVATION BIOGEOGRAPHY and TRANSBOUNDARY ECOLOGY

A new key theme of my research is examining transboundary ecology and conservation of mammals. Although much thinking in conservation occurs at national or smaller scales, protection of wide-ranging species in the face of extensive changes to ecosystem will necessitate a cross-border, multi-country approach. I am leading several large-scale spatial analyses to improve conservation planning for carnivores and other large mammals, including:

  • evaluating the usefulness of a range-wide jaguar conservation plan (complete, see publications in Biological Conservation and Ecological Applications in 2016)
  • documenting discrepancies in cross border protection of carnivores and other species within the Americas – see 2018 publication in Conservation Letters and 2019 publication in Diversity and Distributions
  • examining distribution of protected areas in the Americas, and how that informs transborder conservation – see 2020 publication in Ecological Applications
  • Examining cross-border refugia and status of ranges shifting species in North America

IMPROVING SURVEY TECHNIQUES FOR CARNIVORES AND OTHER MAMMALS

Given the difficulties of predicting how species will respond to the raft of environmental changes occurring (climate change, forest fire, etc.), large-scale monitoring will be fundamental to successful management and conservation in the 21st century. However, reliably surveying carnivores and other large mammals at appropriate scales for conservation is difficult. Much  of our work in this area involves large-scale camera trapping efforts, including efforts to design camera-based monitoring of high elevation forest carnivore communities in Washington (in collaboration with the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle), and efforts to use cameras to document “defaunation” in neotropical forests. Two other current projects seek to use and validate recently developed techniques to generate density estimates of unmarked animals. We are applying these approaches with deer and snowshoe hare in Washington.

 

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CONSERVATION VALUE OF AGROECOSYSTEMS

In collaboration with Dr. Lisa Shipley at WSU, I am beginning a study to examine how a community of sage-brush steppe birds and mammals utilize agroecosystems. We are evaluating the role of conservation mechanisms (such as CRP) and certain agricultural practices (no-till ag) in maintaining biodiversity and connectivity. This work includes local and landscape scale assessment of the key drivers of species occupancy, and community dynamics, on multi-use sagebrush landscapes in central Washington.