Field Fun Friday


This week Justine Kummer experienced the first bird-window collision at her house since she started on the Birds and Windows project three years ago, but instead of showing you that poor dead bird, here’s one of her favourite photos sent in by a friend of his cat eyeing up a little feathered friend. 

Non-invasive sampling provides insights into carnivore ecology via mark-recapture, occupancy, and genetic connectivity for elusive top predators such as jaguars and tigers

A fully grown adult male tiger photographed by a camera Trap, photo by Marcella Kelly.

A fully grown adult male tiger photographed by a camera trap set up by Marcella Kelly’s lab.

Marcella Kelly, an Associate Professor at the Virginia Tech Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Conservation, will be presenting a seminar at the University of Alberta this week. Her talk will be in the Biological Sciences Building room M149 at 2pm on Friday, September 11.

Jaguar photographed by a trail camera set up by Marcella Kelly's lab.

Abstract: Remote camera trapping and molecular scatology have enabled researchers to gain valuable information on previously intractable, elusive top predators. For jaguars in Belize, camera trapping techniques have enabled us to examine the co-existence of multiple predators simultaneously to determine whether jaguars function as an umbrella species or whether meso-predators are suppressed by high numbers of the top predator. Additionally, using scat samples collected with the aid of detector dogs, combined with molecular scatology, we find evidence of a generally well-mixed jaguar population in Belize, yet a faint hint of population sub-structure exists, pointing to the importance of maintaining targeted wildlife corridors. For tigers in Nepal, camera trapping in the forested, hilly habitat known as the Churia, previously considered unsuitable, has revealed a healthy (albeit lower density) tiger population and a potentially thriving leopard population. Unlike Belize however, landscape genetics from molecular scatology in Nepal has revealed a highly structured tiger population with low levels of gene flow among tiger sub-populations. Habitat restoration or targeted translocations may be necessary to maintain genetic connectivity across the landscape.

MSc opportunity: Density estimation of lynx during a snowshoe hare peak and decline

We are seeking a motivated student interested in using camera trapping to estimate the abundance of lynx in our study area in the southwestern Yukon. We have been studying snowshoe hares and lynx at Kluane Lake for almost 40 years. During much of that time we have obtained a relative abundance estimate of lynx via winter snow track transects. We are now poised to deploy camera arrays to estimate actual lynx density changes during a hare peak and decline. We have good estimates of snowshoe hares and numbers suggest they will peak in 2015-16. The successful candidate will be part of an energetic team (5 professors and 7 graduate students) studying the lynx-hare cycle. The project will involve extensive fieldwork during autumn and winter meaning that scholarship (NSERC or equivalent) support will be necessary. The successful applicant would enroll at the University of Alberta, Department of Biological Sciences.

If you enjoy fieldwork and want to experience one of the most beautiful places in Canada during an exciting time in the hare-lynx cycle, this thesis opportunity is for you. Work could begin as early as September 2015.
Applicants should provide a CV plus a copy of their transcripts via email to Stan Boutin ( The competition will remain open until a suitable candidate is found.

Talk: “The Use of Anthropogenic Linear Features by Wolves in Northeastern Alberta” by Melanie Dickie

Boutin lab MSc candidate, Melanie Dickie is defending her thesis on May 28, beginning at 9 am in CCIS 1-243.  All are welcome to attend!


Predation by grey wolves (Canis lupus) has been identified as an important cause of boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) mortality. Wolves have been hypothesized to use human-created linear features such as seismic lines, pipelines and roads to increase ease of movement resulting in higher kill rates. I tested if wolves select linear features and if they increase movement rates while travelling on linear features in northeastern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan using fine scale analyses with 5-minute GPS (Global Positioning System) locations from twenty-two wolves in 6 packs. In addition, I examined how the abundance and physical properties of linear features affects wolf selection of, and movement on, these features. Wolves selected all linear feature classes except for low-impact seismic lines in summer and trails in winter, with the magnitude of selection depending on season. In summer, compared to the surrounding forest, wolves travelled slower on low-impact seismic lines but 2 to 3 times faster on all other linear feature classes. In winter wolves travelled 2 to 3 times faster on conventional seismic lines, pipelines, roads and railways, but slower on low-impact seismic lines and transmission lines. In addition, increased average daily travelling speed while on linear features as well as increased proportion of steps spent travelling on linear features caused increased net daily movement rates, supporting that wolf use of linear features can increase their search distance. The selection of linear features by individual wolves was not related to linear feature density. In summer, linear features through uplands provided a greater increase in travelling speed relative to surrounding forest than wetlands, however this was opposite in winter. Furthermore, when on linear features, wolves selected and moved faster on linear features with shorter vegetation. Vegetation reaching a height beyond 1 m on linear features reduced movement by 23% in summer, whereas vegetation did not decrease travelling speed in winter until it exceeded 5 m. This knowledge can aid mitigation strategies by targeting specific features for reclamation and linear deactivation, such as conventional seismic lines and pipelines with vegetation regrowth less than 1 m, allowing for more effective use of conservation resources.

Melanie is supervised by Dr. Stan Boutin.

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Community Outreach by Wild49 Grad Students

This week several students from the University of Alberta visited Yellowknife as part of a Let’s Talk Science rural science outreach program, including Jessica Haines from our lab. During this week-long trip they visited several schools in Yellowknife to do hands-on activities on physics, chemistry, and biology, including talking about Yukon wildlife researched in our lab. You can read more about their adventures on the Let’s Talk Science blog (, but they have not been alone in taking time to volunteer in their community. Over the past year, many of our lab members have been volunteering with non-profits to do public presentations about science. We are passionate about our research and about science in general, and these are great opportunities for us to share our passion with others.

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The biggest event we volunteered at was the School of Witchcraft and Wizardy: Science is Magic through Let’s Talk Science at the University of Alberta. Our volunteers’ passion was contagious as children and their families enthusiastically learned about science in herbology and the owlery. In herbology, we shared our knowledge about strange adaptations that plants and fungi use to survive and reproduce. For example, did you know that there is a fungus that turns insects into zombies, manipulates them so they run to a good place for the fungus to release its spores, and then kills them and explodes out of their bodies? Or that acacia plants live in symbiosis with ants: the plant provides them with shelter and specially developed leaves for food, while the ant protects its host plant from herbivores and competing plants?


In the owlery, we discussed how owls are adapted to their environment and how they communicate. The students got to listen to owl calls recorded from the wild, check out some great owl specimens, and even meet Colonel Slade – a live barred owl! Colonel Slade took the attention in stride as she always does and was a hit amongst everyone who met her.

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We also volunteered with Let’s Talk Science at other events throughout the year. We visited schools to talk about how animal populations change and played games where the students pretended to be foraging animals. We also helped with other activities, such as flaming chemistry demonstrations or liquid nitrogen ice cream. We also volunteered with Nature Alberta last summer to talk to them about mammals. Children (and their parents) had the chance to look at and touch real animal skulls – including a polar bear, a grizzly bear, a bighorn sheep, and other Canadian mammals. We played games to talk about how animals use their adaptions to get food. Some of our Wild49 members have also done public lectures at museums, nature clubs, and at the Edmonton NerdNite.

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Overall it has been a great year devoted to sharing our knowledge about nature and science. Thanks to all of our lab members who have donated their time this year to educate others. And thanks to all the families, teachers, and students who have joined us to hear from us. We look forward to more outreach in the future!

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Post by Jessica Haines


Boutin Bayne Lab Represents at the 25th ACTWS Conference

Congratulations to all the Boutin-Bayne students who presented at this year’s ACTWS conference!

A special shout out to all the students who won awards:

High Five

Ecology and Conservation of Migratory Birds

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is excited to offer its intensive two-week course: Ecology and Conservation of Migratory Birds.  The course will be taught at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation ( in Front Royal, VA, USA. It’s open for enrollment.

Are you 1) A wildlife professional looking to expand your research skills to include migratory birds, 2) A recent college graduate looking to obtain professional skills to help you get into grad school or begin a career in natural resources and conservation, or 3) Beginning a graduate degree studying birds, but lack field and lab experience needed for your thesis/dissertation?

If so, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, in conjunction with the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation has a solution for you.  We are excited to offer for the second time this intensive two-week course in the mountains of beautiful Front Royal, VA, USA designed to teach conservation professionals, field scientists and graduate students the most current methods in the research of bird migration including theoretical concepts, field and laboratory methods, data analysis and applied conservation strategies. Field sessions will involve training in avian sampling techniques including: daily mist-netting sessions, banding, aging and sexing, tissue sampling, radio-tracking and point-transect distance sampling. Full modules will focus on analysis of mark-recapture data in rmark, and distance sampling analysis using program DISTANCE. R packages used in the analysis of isotope, geolocator, and standard telemetry data will also be demonstrated. Lecture topics will include: migratory connectivity, seasonal interactions, radar ornithology, life-cycle analyses, overwinter ecology, applied genetics, threats to migration, and applied conservation strategies. Finally, participants will learn to prepare museum study skins of bird specimens. SCBI scientists will lead the course, and guest lecturers from local hot spots of migratory bird work will provide students a glimpse into exciting, ongoing research and conservation efforts.

The course takes place from September 14-25, 2015 and the deadline to apply is July 6, 2015Partial scholarships are available on a competitive basis and reduced course fees are offered to those applying from “less-developed” countries. For information on course fees, scholarship opportunities and contact information, please visit:

Participants earn Continuing Education Units; graduate course credit (3) is available for qualified applicants through George Mason University at an additional fee. See the course’s page on our website for prerequisites.