Life as a Deer in a Changing World
I'm Sophie Gilbert, and I study how deer are affected by changing habitat and climate in a landscape that's been heavily altered by human activities.
My research focuses on how animal populations and communities respond to rapid changes in their environment, an increasingly common occurrence with changing climate, fragmented habitat, disrupted migratory routes, and other new challenges. I work in the temperate rainforest, which is one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. A quarter of the remaining temperate rainforests worldwide occur in Southeast Alaska with its unique species and ecological communities. Deer play a central role in forest ecology, providing prey for humans, wolves, and bears, and regulating plant communities as plant predators.
Human disturbance is often the cause of these rapid shifts in the environment and provides us with an excellent testing ground for hypotheses about animal response to change. Southeast Alaska has a history of heavy logging activity, which has provided economic growth and employment for the region, but has also changed forest habitats for local animal and plant residents. Prince of Wales Island, where I work, has been the focus of industrial-scale logging since the 1950s.
For deer, logging may be a mixed blessing; young clearcuts provide plenty of food in the summer, but during winters with heavy snows, deer don't have as much old growth habitat to fall back on for food and shelter. Our work will help illuminate the consequences of logging for deer survival and reproduction, and help managers plan for a future that can accommodate both timber harvest and a healthy deer population.
Each spring, I capture 20 pregnant adult female deer and fit them with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars and a temperature-sensitive radio transmitter that is expelled by the deer as they give birth to their fawns. With these signals, I am able to be present at approximately 40 births each year to radio collar fawns in their first hours of life. By tracking survival and reproduction over their lifetimes, we can determine how differences in habitat and climate affect the deer, and then use that to explore the possible impact of future change scenarios.
Learn more at www.gilbertresearch.org.
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Dates, Details & Deadlines
Grad Students: Fall 2015
- Sep 15: Spring 2016 Graduate Student Admission Applications
- Oct 15: Advancement to Candidacy for Spring 2016 Graduation
- Nov 3: Post-defense thesis/signature page to Department Chair or Wildlife Program Chair (routed to CNSM Dean by Nov 24)
- Dec 3: Post-Defense thesis to Graduate School for Fall 2015 Graduation