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Research Overview

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

Southern California Cougar Research Project


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

Funding source: RiverWatch, USDA McIntire-Stennis, Dr. Manning’s WSU startup, and additional proposals in review!

Summary: The focus of the WSU Southern California Cougar Project (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. 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.
  2. We secured an agreement with CDFW to investigate spatially-explicit predation risk of Peninsular bighorn sheep by cougars, which my M.S. student Joseph Knee begins this fall.
  3. We initiated collaborations and submitted a grant proposal with UC Davis to develop cougar sampling and population estimation methods for future development of long-term population monitoring in the Santa Ana Mountains region.

Lead: Dr. Manning is leading this project, with field assistance from WSU M.S. student Joseph Knee.

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

Above photos — Bobcats investigating scent lures

Effects of brown bears on black bear occupancy and abundance on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska: scaling spatially explicit simultaneous genetic tagging data to habitat heterogeneity using 2-species occupancy and spatial capture-recapture                 


Location: Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest, Alaska

Funding source: Dr. Manning’s startup (WSU CAHNRS Office of Research) and USFWS Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (Collaborator: Dr. John Morton).

Summary: This study will use 2-species conditional occupancy and spatial capture-recapture modeling to estimate the effects of brown bears on black bear occupancy and abundance across 11,700 km² of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest, Alaska. It expands upon the work of J. Morton, G. White, G. Hayward, D. Paetkau, and M. Bray (2016), uses simultaneous, systematic genetic tagging of both black and brown bears, and is intended to further our knowledge of the role brown bears play in shaping the spatial distribution and habitat partitioning of subdominant black bears in this heterogeneous Alaska system.

Graduate student: 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 …

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: Details coming soon …

Avian responses to multi-state habitat components in restored and natural riparian systems in the Kern River Preserve


Location: Weldon, California

Funding source: Southern Sierra Research Station (Collaborator: Mary Whitfield)

Summary: Details coming soon …

Graduate student: Amanda Crandall

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 …

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: Details coming soon …