Steury Lab

Wildlife ecology research at Auburn University

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My lab is broadly interested in the population ecology, species interactions, and behavior of wildlife, especially mammalian predators and their prey. We are particularly interested in applying knowledge learned in the above areas to better conserve and restore species.


 

Current Lab Projects

Jaguar-Panther-Cattle interactions in Paraguay

Cattle ranching in Paraguay is big business. Yet Paraguay is one of those countries that still has a complete suite of natural, large predators. Thus, depredation of cattle by jaguars and mountain lions is a major concern. Graduate student Hunter McDonald is trying to understand cattle-predator relationships in Paraguay in hopes of finding ways to minimize cattle predation. Currently, on the cattle ranch where Hunter is working, ranchers are losing 9-30 cattle per month to predators; and that only includes the documented predation. With the help of Rocky McBride, a noted and established houndsman, Hunter is attempting to catch and GPS radio-collar all the large predators on the ranch.

 

Squirrel-pig interactions in Alabama

Wild pigs are a major ecological problem here in Alabama. Due to rooting behavior, they can do substantial damage to the environment. Thus, in collaboration with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, a number of professors in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences are examining the effects of pigs on the environment through manipulative experiment. Dr. Steve Ditchkoff is removing pigs from half of the Lowndes Wildlife Management Area. My lab will be looking at the effects of pigs on other wildlife, specifically tree squirrels. Because squirrels rely on buried nuts to survive through winter, and pigs dig up and consumer those nuts, we hypothesize the pigs could have a pretty big effect on squirrels. Graduate student Sarah Wilson is radio collaring squirrels in both pig-removal and control areas to study squirrel foraging behavior, diet, survival, reproduction, and density.

 

Black bear ecology in Alabama

The black bear was once common in Alabama. In fact, the range distributions of three separate subspecies of black bears (the Florida subspecies, Louisiana subspecies, and the American subspecies) once met in this state. Today, there are probably fewer than 100 individuals in Alabama, all concentrated in two small populations: a remnant population of the Florida subspecies of black bears north of Mobile, and a newly re-established population of the American subspecies in northeast Alabama. Graduate students Stephanie Graham, Chris Seals, and John Draper, using a variety of methods including EcoDogs, are attempting to understand some very basic, but important information about black bears in Alabama, including: how many there are, where they are, what habitats they use, the degree of inbreeding in the population, and connectivity and gene flow between populations both within the state and with other, surrounding states. Undergraduate students Laura Garland and Dallas Gentry are analyzing all the bear scat the EcoDogs have found to determine exactly what bears are eating and how much they rely on anthropogenic food sources.

 

Use of unmanned aerial vehicles to sample for wildlife

A lot of wildlife species are just plain hard to find, which has led to many creative way to search for them, including the use of EcoDogs. I'm currently working with two undergraduate students in engineering to develop a hexacopter (a helicopter with 6 propellers for added stability and thrust) that can be used to search for hard-to-find wildlife.

 

Non-lethal effects of predators in cottontails

Predators kill their prey, which can have obvious effects on prey populations. However, predators also scare their prey, and the behavior that prey engage in to avoid predators can have just as large, enough larger consequences for prey populations. A number of undergraduate students are involved in a project to attempt to measure these non-lethal effects of predators. Cottontails are being radio-collared, and we will then experimentally increase the risk of predation in some animals. The effects of this increased risk of predation on cottontail survival, reproduction, nutrition, and behavior will then be monitored. 

 

 

For information on past projects, see the list of publications

 

Link to DNAtabase

 
 

Black-tailed prairie dog scanning for predators

 

Hunter McDonald with Jaguar

Graduate student Hunter McDonald with a Jaguar in Paraguay

 

Hexacopter

Hexacopter used to search for hard-to-find wildlife

 

Black bear with cubs

Mama black bear with cubs caught on game camera

 

Radio-tagged leveret (predators love these things)

 

 

E-mail: steury@auburn.edu 3301 Forestry and Wildlife Building, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849 Phone: 334.844.9253
Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Todd Steury 2008