The Behavioral REsearch And eCosystem Health lab at the University of Alaska Southeast
This lab is focused on understanding the behavior and ecology of marine mammals, and their role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. A wide network of collaborators, undergraduates, and graduate students are involved in projects related to this theme. If you are a prospective graduate student, please read these brief overviews of the lab’s current activities. I accept graduate students through my joint appointment with the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Contact me if you are interested in learning more. Although I currently do not have funding to support a graduate student, I am always open to discussing creative solutions with bright, motivated students.
Two current projects are focused on understanding the "Blue Carbon" ecosystem services provided by marine mammals. Blue carbon is an emerging concept that describes how marine organisms help to combat climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. We are studying how humpback whales “fertilize” surface waters by producing nutrient-rich fecal plumes. These nutrients then stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. We are also studying how sea otters help kelp forests to grow by feeding on organisms that graze on kelp, such as sea urchins. By keeping populations of kelp grazers low, sea otters keep kelp forests healthy. Kelp forests, like forests on land, also absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Taken together, these projects will increase our understanding of how marine mammals can help to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels.
Another on-going project is to examine the evolution of intelligence and large brains in cetaceans and primates. Cetaceans and primates demonstrate numerous characteristics associated with intelligence, such as problem-solving and large relative brain size. They also show striking similarities in social behavior and how their societies are organized, which are thought to be related to their large brains. These commonalities are remarkable because cetaceans and primates are separated not only by the land-sea interface but also 95 million years of evolution.
Last but certainly not least, as humans are also integral components of healthy ecosystems, we study environmental behaviors in people, such as recycling and whale watching. We are interested in understanding what motivates people to perform pro-environmental behaviors, such as recycling. We are also working to understand the costs and benefits of whale watching. A potential cost of whale watching is altered whale behavior and movement patterns. On the other hand, a potential benefit of whale watching is educating the public about whales and their conservation challenges.
Our dusky dolphin tagging project was featured in a news article in New Zealand. Check it out here: http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/75654573/new-study-of-kaikouras-dolphin-population-to-reveal-valuable-insight-into-behaviour.html
Greetings from Kaikoura! We're back on the South Island of New Zealand working on our dolphin tagging project. We arrived Dec. 10 and have been going non-stop since then. We are off the water today due to strong southerly winds and so I finally have a chance to catch up!
The purpose of this season's work is to attach a suction-cup tag to dusky dolphins in order to better understand their behavior and ecology. Our tag contains a small video camera for recording social behaviors and a time depth recorder that will record diving behavior. Results of this study will provide information on how often, how long, and how deep dolphins dive, and how they interact with each other. This information will help us to better protect duskies and other dolphins by understanding intricate details of their feeding and social behavior. This project includes collaborators from the New Zealand Department of Conservation, the University of Sydney, and NOAA. It is supported by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program and the Encounter Foundation.