Research projects

 

I am currently a postdoctoral research associate with the White Ibis Project, an interdisciplinary study led by Dr. Sonia Hernandez at the University of Georgia. We are using information white ibis movement, diet, and health to examine the effects of urbanization on the transmission of Salmonella enterica, a bacterial pathogen which can be spread to other birds as well as humans.  White ibis are captivating and often fed white bread, crackers, and other snacks by the public in parks. This reliable food source tends to promote large aggregations of white ibis in urban parks in South Florida, where urbanization has increased dramatically and wetland habitat is becoming more scarce. Constant, high aggregations of ibis and other common urban avian species may increase the likelihood of contact between birds, contamination of soil and water, and transmission to humans. Further, feed provided by humans may be nutritionally deficient and potentially decrease immune function. Taken together, while urban environments provide ample resources, there may be hidden health costs to living in the city for white ibis and many other species.

Following my PhD I did a brief postdoctoral research project with the Grizzly Bear Research and Mitigation Project, a multi-disciplinary study seeking to better understand and prevent collisions between trains and grizzly bears in Banff National Park. I examined what grizzly bear diet can teach us about why bears are attracted to – and die on – the rail. For example, grizzly bears are often observed eating spilled grain near the rail but the importance of grain in bear diet is not well understood. Other foods associated with rail lines, such as animal carcasses and disturbance-loving plants, might also attract bears and need more attention. A better understanding of how to minimize bear attractants could help reduce the time bears spend on the rail and their risk of collision.

I completed my PhD in spring 2015 on individual variation in urban coyote ecology and conflict with people as part of the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project. I examined the movement patterns and habitat selection of urban coyotes using GPS collars and measured the diets of coyote populations using scat analysis and individual coyotes using stable isotope analysis. I also examined the potential for disease spread at piles of compost using remote cameras. One of the main findings of my project is that coyotes in poor health, visibly parasitized with sarcoptic mange, were more likely to use residential areas, especially during the day, and seek out human food low in protein including piles of compost.

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Maureen fitting and urban coyote with a GPS collar

 

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