As an ecological researcher, I like to poke at the surface of things. I look for the rabbit holes – both real and metaphorical – that lead into the invisible infrastructure that undergirds nature. Once there, I ask questions: Why does the animal dig out a den here and not there? What do the communities of critters do in the dark of night? How do ecosystems change as winter snow gives way to spring sunshine? Investigating these questions reveals astonishing beauty, and answering them enables us to conserve our natural resources so that all creatures, humans and wildlife alike, can flourish.
To this end, I study the secret lives of carnivores. A city-dweller my whole life, I am fascinated by those carnivores that make a living among us, carving out a niche between the humans going about their daily business: raccoons and skunks and coyotes and foxes and, yes, the occasional bobcat. Despite sharing our cities with them, we know precious little about these species. The central theme of my PhD dissertation research in the RECaP Laboratory is to describe and predict the factors associated with the decision-making of these elusive urban carnivores.
But there is a problem: urban carnivores are among the most hidden of all nature’s beasts. They make their living on being shy and sly and cunning. So how can we learn about them?
Enter technology. I am part of a wonderful team of collaborators that relies on the latest cutting-edge technologies to peer into the layered world of carnivores. We at RECaP work together with the Cleveland Metroparks in Cleveland, Ohio, and one of our go-to technologies for studying urban wildlife is the camera-trap.