Integrating Behavior and Demography in Vertebrate Conservation

Principal Investigator(s): 

Individual differences in behavior and social status can in theory determine the rate of population change and thus the threat that imperiled species face in the real world. While there has been an increase in the number of studies addressing the interface between behavior and conservation theory, a paradigm for applying behavioral knowledge to real-world conservation problems has not yet been developed. The goal of this research is to integrate theories from behavioral ecology with quantitative techniques in demography in order to examine the effects of a variety of reproductive behaviors on extinction risk. Trained as a population biologist, most of my research to date has focused on the effects of density dependence, environmental stochasticity, and catastrophic mortality events on the viability of endangered populations. Recognizing that this coarse approach ignores the finer subtleties of animal behavior, I seek to bridge the gap between behavioral ecology and population dynamics. This research will provide practitioners with guidelines for understanding when behavior should be an important component of a particular management strategy (e.g., can we identify behavioral cues of population dysfunction that provide cost-effective monitoring alternatives?). I will use empirical data on sea lions in the Gulf of California, Mexico to develop a general framework for integrating behaviors and the demographic consequences of these behaviors into estimates of extinction risk.

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