Research Projects

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Fortymile caribou herd habitat and population dynamics

The Fortymile caribou (Rangifer tarandus) herd in Alaska and the Yukon Territory is one of North America’s most important migratory caribou herds, straddling the border of the US and Canada. It has been the focus of study for the past 60+ years in Canada and Alaska. In this NASA ABoVE affiliated project, our lab will be collaborating with BLM, Alaska Department of Game and Fish, Yukon Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service to understand habitat and population dynamics for this important caribou herd.

Fortymile caribou herd habitat and population dynamics

Conservation and Management of Woodland Caribou in Alberta and the Canadian Rockies

Woodland caribou populations are classified as threatened in Canada under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), due to anthropogenic activities that are altering predator-prey dynamics. We have conducted research since 2007 across the souther mountain ecotype of woodland caribou in Alberta and BC and the Boreal woodland ecotype across Alberta to contribute to caribou recovery efforts. By working cooperatively with industry and governments, we examined the links between human activities and caribou conservation to promote sustainable development and species recovery. This research has been an ongoing interagency project between government agencies and the Universities of Montana, Calgary, and Alberta. Find out more about two previous research components here:

Wolf-caribou predator-prey dynamics in the Canadian Rockies

Modeling relationships between wolves, elk, caribou, and fire to aid caribou recovery in the Canadian Rockies National Parks

Conservation and Management of Woodland Caribou in Alberta and the Canadian Rockies

Animals on the Move: NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE)

Animals on the move: Remotely based determination of key drivers influencing movements and habitat selection of highly mobile fauna throughout the ABoVE study domain

This project is part of the ambitious NASA ABoVE program, and is lead by Dr. Natalie Boelman at Colubmia University together with 5 other Co-Investigators - find out more here on the project profile. Our overarching science goal is to understand how highly mobile terrestrial fauna navigate and select habitat in the rapidly changing ABoVE Study Domain. Facilitated by many data-sharing collaborations with US and Canadian government agencies, we will use space-based wildlife tracking technology to build an integrated dataset of regional-scale and near-continuous descriptions of passerine (American robins), raptor (Golden Eagles), ungulate (caribou, moose), and predator (wolf and brown bear) locations with both static and dynamic remote sensing products and other regional-scale geospatial datasets (Obj.1). We will use this data to build empiricallybased statistical movement and habitat selection models for multiple groups of animals across the ABoVE Study Domain (Obj.2). The geospatial tools and products will be made accessible to natural resource agencies, wildlife managers, First Nations, Alaskan natives, and other stakeholders to aid them in management and adaptation decisions (Obj.3). Further, our novel models and geospatial tools will be available for Phase 2 and 3 ABoVE studies in which future projections of animal movement and habitat selection will be made, and subsequently used to determine societal consequences and develop decision support products.

Animals on the Move: NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE)

Long-term Population Dynamics of the Partially Migratory Ya Ha Tinda elk Herd

Since 2001, Evelyn Merrill (University of Alberta) and Mark Hebblewhite have collaborated on a long-term project on the population dynamics of the Ya Ha Tinda elk herd in Banff National Park. This research was awarded an NSF LTREB grant from the Division of Environmental Biology in 2015, and will continue for 5-10 more years. Graduate students have included Scott Eggeman (UM), Holger Bohm (UofA), Eric Spilker (UofA), Lindsey Glines (UofA), Leslie McInenely (UofA), Barry Robinson (UofA) and the current graduate students are Jodi Berg (PhD, UofA) and Hans Martin (PhD, UM). Find out more here from our website.

Long-term Population Dynamics of the Partially Migratory Ya Ha Tinda elk Herd

Multi-species Camera Trapping Monitoring in the Canadian Rockies

Since Robin Steenweg completed his PhD working with the Canadian National and Provincial Parks to improve multi-species occupancy modeling, the Heb Lab is continuing to work with Parks Canada and British Columbia government biologists to expand our large-scale remote camera trapping grid into southeastern British Columbia. Ongoing work includes developing spatial mark-resight models for grizzly bears, and understanding connectivity at large landscape scales. 

Multi-species Camera Trapping Monitoring in the Canadian Rockies

The Ecology of Tigers in the Intact Asian Landscapes of Bhutan

Building on a strong relationship between the University of Montana and Bhutan, PhD student Tshering Tempa are working together with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) in the Ministry of Agriculture to study the ecology of Bengal Tigers in Bhutan. 

The Ecology of Tigers in the Intact Asian Landscapes of Bhutan

Amur Tiger Habitat and Predator-prey modeling

Working with Wildlife Conservation Society-Russia, Mark Hebblewhite and graduate student Clay Miller (Fall 2009), worked with Dale Miquelle, WCS, are investigating a variety of aspects of the ecology and conservation of the Amur Tiger from 2008-2013. Starting in 2015, Mark Hebblewhite and Dr. Wenhong Xiao are continuing these efforts working in the Chinese part of Amur tiger range.

Amur Tiger Habitat and Predator-prey modeling

Completed Project: Linking Mule Deer Populations to Habitat in Idaho

The aim of this research project is to better understand the link between habitat quality and mule deer population dynamics in Idaho, with a goal of building better predictive population models for mule deer management. Led by Idaho Fish and Game Mule deer research biologist Mark Hurley.

Completed Project: Linking Mule Deer Populations to Habitat in Idaho

Completed: Bitterroot Elk Project

Together with Dr. Kelly Proffitt from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, we investigaged the roles of top-down (predation) and bottom-up (habitat) forces in driving elk population dynamics in the East and West forks of the Bitterroot Valley in Western Montana from 2011-2014. Daniel Eacker succesfully defended his MS thesis in Fall 2015. 

Dan Eacker's MS thesis can be downloaded here

Dan Eacker's MS thesis presentation can be viewed here (it is large, 400mb)

Visit Fish, Wildlife and Parks to learn more

Completed: Bitterroot Elk Project

Completed Project: Consequences of migratory behavior to Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

This project aimed at understanding the consequences of migratory behavior to the ecology and recovery of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep, which is among the world’s most endangered mountain ungulates.

Completed Project: Consequences of migratory behavior to Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

Completed Project: Determinants of Migratory Plasticity in Ungulates in the Italian Alps

This collaborative research project focuses on explaining plasticity of migration, such as partial migration, in ungulates. The project addresses several questions at different scales from the individual animal to the population and species level. Wibke Peters is leading this research for her PhD, focusing on Roe deer and Red deer in the Italian Alps and through Europe. 

Completed Project: Determinants of Migratory Plasticity in Ungulates in the Italian Alps