Fundamental ecology

Marine megavertebrates and marine food webs

Little is known about the ecological role of marine megavertebrates. Our work on marine food webs seeks to elucidate interactions among different trophic levels including top predators, as well as wildlife-fishery interactions, with the purpose to better inform ecosystem-based management efforts that can be applied by local managers. We engage local communities in the study of ecosystem ecology and the implementation of sustainable fishing practices. For example, to understand the impact of whales on commercial fisheries, we develop food web models to examine the potential impact of a reduction in the abundance of great whales on fishery yield. Our approach has been embraced in discussions about establishing appropriate policies for conserving marine megafauna and sustaining fisheries around the globe.

P7140388Individual variability and demography

We are interested in identifying mechanistic relationships between animal behavior and demography.  Our previous work on sea lions in the Gulf of California allowed us to integrate empirically-based estimates of mating behavior into demographic population models that are used in extinction risk analyses.  More recently, we began developing a quantitative index of sociality, an innovative method of estimating phylogenetically-corrected demographic and life history parameters, and species-specific demographic rate estimates essential for conservation and management.  We are also developing a database of social, behavioral, ecological, and demographic data for marine mammals to examine the relationship between population dynamics and sociality.

Uncertainty & structured ecological decision-making

Our interest in developing novel decision-theoretic approaches to environmental problem solving is motivated by a desire to bring the best available data to policy contexts.  In fisheries biology, for example, many stock managers want simple, certain answers about fish abundance, but population biologists study complexity and uncertainty. When biologists and policy makers understand each other better, however, it becomes clear that uncertainty is a natural part of many biological systems, and that uncertainty is not the same as knowing nothing.  More importantly, direct dialogue between scientists and policy makers can allow for uncertainty to be directly and meaningfully incorporated into our decision-making processes.  We work across several contexts in developing general decision tools that incorporate scientific uncertainty into environmental decision-making.