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Research Overview


Why Quantitative Ecology — Understanding how environmental factors influence the demography, habitat use, space use, and interactions of populations and species, and how anthropogenic factors interact with these processes under rapidly changing climatic conditions is crucial to inform effective wildlife management and conservation. Additionally, surveying and sampling wildlife populations requires overcoming many challenges, including uncompromising rugged terrain and uncooperative study animals that can lead towards sparse data. To attain scientifically valid inference from such data, statistically rigorous sampling designs and models are necessary to separate information associated with ecological patterns and processes of interest from the sampling process. My lab uses various sampling designs and statistical modeling approaches to analyze wildlife survey data collected with a variety of methods, from live-trapping to non-invasive photo-identification and DNA collection, with the overarching goal of contributing to science-driven wildlife conservation and management.

Research Interests — My research interests are generally related to understanding how wildlife populations respond to environmental change, and the ecological, conservation, and management implications of those responses. As such, research performed by my lab is grounded in ecological theory and is largely empirical, combining field experiments, observational studies, long-term cross-sectional and longitudinal datasets, and development of quantitative approaches. A particular area of research we focus on is the development and application of statistical models for estimating animal abundance, occurrence, survival, resource selection, and species interactions. A key question of interest is how individuals, populations, and ecological communities respond to changes in resource availability across environmental gradients under changing habitat and climate conditions.

The Quantitative Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Lab focuses on both applied and basic research, with a current emphasis on three complimentary themes:

  1. Population and behavioral ecology.
  2. Species interactions and cascading effects.
  3. Development of novel field sampling and analytical techniques to inform wildlife management and conservation.

Current Research Projects

Ecology and Impacts of Coyotes from Shrub-steppe to Alpine Environments of the Cascade Range, Washington: Source Populations, Species Interactions, and Dynamic Behaviors Under Climate Change


Location: Cascade Range, Central Washington state

Funding source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Summary: Details coming soon …

Estimating Population Status, Size, and Limiting Factors of Mountain Quail in Eastern Washington State and Surrounding Interior Columbia River Basin Area to Inform Translocation and Habitat Restoration Efforts


Location: Southeast Washington state, Oregon, and Idaho

Funding source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Summary: Details coming soon …

Southern California Cougar Research Program


Location: Peninsular Ranges, Santa Ana Mountains, and Colorado Desert Region

Funding source: RiverWatch, USDA McIntire-Stennis, Dr. Manning’s WSU startup, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife LAG Program.

Summary: The focus of the WSU Southern California Cougar Program (SCCRP) is to improve scientific knowledge of and inform conservation strategies for cougars and other mammalian carnivore species (e.g., cougar, bobcat, gray fox) across this increasingly fragmented region.

Primary objectives include:

  1. Develop and test non-invasive field sampling techniques (e.g., genetic tagging, photo recognition, track recognition, occupancy) and analytical tools that produce statistically rigorous estimates of demographic rates (e.g., population size, survival, juvenile recruitment, age-structure, and dispersal) for each population.
  2. Use the results from Objective 1 to develop cost-effective and scientifically valid species- and population-specific long-term monitoring protocols.
  3. Investigate factors that underlie local population dynamics, species interactions, and cascading effects through this multi-species carnivore community.
  4. inform regional conservation planning through collaborative efforts with fellow researchers, resource agencies, NGOs, tribes, and other interested parties.


  1. We (the QWEC Lab and UC Davis) were awarded a new California Department of Fish and Wildlife LAG Program grant in 2020 to develop and conduct a non-invasive sampling approach to estimate cougar population size in the Santa Ana Mountains region. This work is intended to inform the development of a long-term population monitoring strategy for this small, geographically isolated, and declining population of conservation concern; field work began summer 2020.
  2. Through formal collaborations and research permits with the Pala Tribe, California State Parks, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and private landowners, we completed field sampling with trail camera arrays in Summer 2019 to investigate species-specific responses to various scent lures and auditory calls. We overlapped these field sampling efforts (involving spatial and temporal controls and treatments) with our other study on wildlife responses to oak tree mortality attributed to the gold-spotted oak borer. We will use these results to inform our next stage of research, which will involve maximizing detection probabilities while estimating population size using non-invasive population sampling.
  3. We secured an agreement with CDFW to investigate spatially-explicit predation risk of Peninsular bighorn sheep by cougarsWe launched the first field season (winter and spring 2020) designed to investigate and model bighorn sheep kill sites by cougars across the range of the federally endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep.

Lead: Dr. Manning is leading the SCCRP, with field assistance from WSU students.

Above photos — Cougars investigating auditory calls and/or scent lures

Above photos — Bobcats investigating scent lures

Avian migration and stopover ecology across the Pacific Flyway: individual and demographic responses to changing environments


Location: Southern California, with links to North, Central, and South America

Funding source: Southern Sierra Research Station (Collaborator: Mary Whitfield); more proposals being prepared.

Summary: This research involves using developing technologies to track migrating birds and investigate questions about migration and stopover ecology across the Americas, including individual and demographic responses to multi-state habitat components in restored and natural riparian systems in the Kern River Preserve located in southern California. This effort includes analysis of long-term population data on the federally endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, population and individual resource selection functions in stopover sites, and individual body condition and survival.

Graduate students: Edwin Jacobo (supported in part by teaching assistantships provided by WSU School of the Environment)

Environmental determinants of North American bear distributions and occupancy             


Locations: North America. Studies in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest, Alaska and North Cascades National Park, Washington.

Funding source: Dr. Manning’s startup (USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, McIntire-Stennis).

Collaborators: USNPS North Cascades National Park (Collaborator: Dr. Jason Ransom); USFWS Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (Collaborator: Dr. John Morton).

Summary: These studies examine occupancy and distributions in response to environmental variation and inter-species interactions to further our understanding of how these factors may interact with climate change to shape future wildlife community assemblages and spatial distributions in heterogeneous systems. As part of this, we also are evaluating the bear detection process by recreational trail users.

Graduate students: Cullen Anderson

Scaling up from individuals to populations: integrating spatial ecology with multi-locus environmental DNA to improve detection and estimate population parameters


Location: Continental United States

Funding source: Department of Defense.

Summary: Dr. Manning is a Co-PI on this collaborative study led by Dr. Caren Goldberg (PI) that will integrate spatial ecology and eDNA to estimate population parameters. This novel study will build upon the previous eDNA work from Dr. Goldberg’s WSU eDNA Lab ( Additional details coming soon …

Graduate students: Opportunity coming soon.

Monitoring demography of a newly discovered Mojave Desert tortoise population


Location: United Nation’s Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve

Funding source: The Desert Tortoise Council

Summary: Details coming soon …

Completed Research Projects

Estimating biodiversity across vegetation gradients in the United Nation’s Valle de Los Cirios Biosphere Reserve


Location: Baja, Mexico

Funding source: JiJi Foundation and ICF-International Community Foundation.

Summary: Dr. Manning and his Co-PI Dr. Caren Goldberg are field mapping and developing predicted distributions of Vizcaino Desert vegetation and vertebrate and plant diversity across the El Canto De La Tierra Wildlife Conservation, Management, and Sustainable Utilization Unit (UMA) in Rancho San Gregorio within Ejido Nuevo Rosarito. This region of the Baja Peninsula is rich with endemic plants and animals, including the world’s largest cactus, the Cardon.

Modeling environmental factors affecting the frequency of wildlife-vehicle collisions


Location: Methow Valley, Washington 

Funding source: Washington State Department of Transportation (Collaborator: Piper Petit) and USDA
National Institute of Food and Agriculture, McIntire-Stennis project.

Summary: Final report completed March 2020.