Manuela González Suárez

Lab Member Fall 2003 – Fall 2007

Currently Marie Curie Postdoc in Sevilla, Spain

Although behavioral ecology and conservation biology are in urgent need of integration, few tools currently exist which can facilitate this merger. For instance, one reason behavioral information is not included in population viability analyses is that these data are not collected in a manner that facilitates incorporation into population models. Tackling this issue requires: 1) new approaches to incorporate available behavioral information into estimates of viability, and 2) empirical efforts to gather more usable behavioral data. The resulting behaviorally-explicit population models will improve the precision of viability estimates, resulting in a more efficient use of conservation resources.

For her PhD research, Manuela addressed this need for integration by examining links between breeding habitat selection and population persistence on California sea lions (Zalophus californianus californianus) in the Gulf of California (GoC). Namely, she aimed to 1) integrate habitat selection data into demographic models used to assess extinction risk, and 2) determine the mechanisms of breeding habitat selection in California sea lions and their effect on population distribution and site occupancy.

To achieve these goals, Manuela worked in the field, in the lab and on the computer. The field season covers most of the summer, the sea lions’ breeding season. During this period she gathered behavioral data, but also collected tissue samples (for DNA extraction) from adults and pups, and captured pups that are tagged and measured. During the rest of the year she divided her time between the computer and a genetics lab. She developed theoretical approaches to understand the effects of different behavioral strategies on population dynamics. In the lab, she extracted and analyzed DNA from the tissue samples collected during the summer to determine the degree of philopatry and population structure in this species.