How climate change could exacerbate the impacts of large mammal declines

Deer in small wooded patches
Deer in small wooded patches on the campus of Princeton University. The photos were taken as part of an undergraduate ecology laboratory course taught by my co-author Rob Pringle, and for which I served as an assistant instructor. Students also captured images of foxes, raccoons, and house cats.

In wintertime, it’s often getting dark in Princeton by the time I head home from the office to scrounge up some dinner. Along the half-mile path, I regularly walk or bike within few meters of the local herd of white-tailed deer. There are at least five or six animals that circulate among the tiny patches of trees and streams at the south end of campus. The university deer are just a fraction of the estimated 450-500 that roam the 16 km2 town of Princeton. That’s almost 40 deer per km2, well above the state of New Jersey’s recommended 20-25 per km2. Indeed, much of the northeast U.S. is forced to deal with dense, growing deer populations thanks to the removal of wolves, forest recovery over the last century following the westward shift of American agriculture, and a suburbanization-associated decline in hunting.

All these extra ungulates come with costs. For one, Princeton has paid hundreds-of-thousands of dollars between 2001 and 2015 to professional sharpshooters who controversially culled over 2700 deer from the population. However, hunting costs pale in comparison to those of the 300-plus deer-vehicle collisions that occurred each year in Princeton before the hunts were organized! Continue reading “How climate change could exacerbate the impacts of large mammal declines”

East Africa’s Elephant Architects

I can see elephants in my backyard—at least fifteen of them, youngsters and grownups. They are a few hundred meters off, but distinctive amongst the thorn trees, and my eyes drift to them every time I look up from the computer screen. In the 12 years that I’ve been working here at the Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya’s Laikipia Highlands, elephants have grown both … Continue reading East Africa’s Elephant Architects