The future of applied conservation science is bright

Congratulations to Drs. Christina Service and Megan Adams, Kate Field, and to the Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab.

A group of scientists and students converge after Christina Service's dissertation defence.

Photo by Andrew S. Wright.

This has been a time of remarkable accomplishment for the Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab at the University of Victoria. The research that the lab produces is a dynamic mix of population analyses, biogeography, marine-terrestrial interactions and much more, all rooted in a ‘wildlife welfare’ ethic. Collaboration with Indigenous communities forms the hallmark of much of this work, which is being directly applied.

The lab is still relatively young in science years, and we are proud to celebrate three recent milestones and three remarkable scientists.

Firstly, Christina Service has successfully defended her dissertation and has become the first PhD student to emerge from the lab. Among other work, Dr. Service has been using chemical techniques on hair samples from black bears to understand the important relationship between salmon diversity and bear health. Her research is essential to developing sound salmon and bear conservation policies:

We reasoned that if you’re only looking at salmon biomass, and not diversity, then you’re not really going to understand the full picture of how to best provide salmon for bears. With a diverse “portfolio” of salmon species, bears have more days throughout the year where fish are in the rivers and available for foraging, and more stream sections in which they can fish. By contrast, biomass summed across species (for which we currently manage), is less useful for bears if it comes in all the same time (e.g., via only one species).1

Christina’s research into bear foraging behaviour and its relationship to salmon diversity is directly applied to conservation issues on the coast. Collaborating with the Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv, Gitga’at, Nuxalk, and Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations across 22,000km2 of their territories, Christina’s work relates can help inform their management of local salmon streams. And about Christina’s role as Executive Director of the Spirit Bear Research Foundation (of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais), Dr. Chris Darimont, director of science at Raincoast, reflected that “it’s not just what Dr. Service’s research is about that matters; it’s how she has accomplished it.”

The second occasion for celebration is Kate Field’s recent successful defense of her Master’s thesis. Kate’s research into how we can improve relationships between wildlife researchers and the animals they study is central to our core value to safeguard ‘wildlife welfare’.

Kate and her co-authors have just published a new research paper, “Publication reform to safeguard wildlife from researcher harm,” in which they propose a new set of minimum requirements for animal care policies in journals that publish research on wildlife:

Despite abundant focus on responsible care of laboratory animals, we argue that inattention to the maltreatment of wildlife constitutes an ethical blind spot in contemporary animal research. We begin by reviewing significant shortcomings in legal and institutional oversight, arguing for the relatively rapid and transformational potential of editorial oversight at journals in preventing harm to vertebrates studied in the field and outside the direct supervision of institutions.2

This week we also celebrate the newly appointed Dr. Megan Adams. Working closely with the Wuikinuxv Nation, Megan’s research work has significant implications for furthering not only bear conservation, but also bear-human coexistence. Megan’s scholarship has helped to develop models for community engagement in which our Indigenous partners inform research conception, design and dissemination.

Megan’s field research included analysis of bear-salmon interactions at a landscape scale using a massive dataset of hair samples from over 1,400 black and grizzly bears collected over 690,000 km2 of British Columbia.

“Bears with high-salmon diets are often the fittest bears. We want to know where they roam and ask whether they are protected from multiple human stressors. These results demonstrate important connections between land and sea over huge landscapes. Fisheries and land-use management would benefit from integrating beyond discrete geo-political jurisdictions to take ecosystem processes into account and consider habitat protections beyond existing boundaries.” Adams

The successful completion of this stage of the careers of Christina, Kate and Megan is cause for celebration and a landmark accomplishment for Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Raincoast lab. We are inspired by the commitment and brilliance of our colleagues in the field and in the lab, and the support of the communities in which this collaborative research is based.

Thank you Kate, MSc, Dr. Service and Dr. Adams — on behalf of all your colleagues at Raincoast.

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