© 2015 by Michael J L Peers

Climate change is considered one of the greatest threats to global biodiversity loss, and is currently altering the distribution and abundance of numerous species. My main research interests focus on understanding and predicting how species will respond to climate change, and integrating this knowledge into conservation decisions. Although not directly represented in my previous scientific work, I have become particularly interested in re-thinking general conservation and restoration practices under novel ecosystems: those that differ in composition or function from ecosystems of past and present.

 

Current PhD Research

     Predicting climate change consequences on species demography remains challenging because of the difficulties in determining how climate disruption affects biotic interactions. Changing climate could impact biotic interactions in numerous ways, including the alteration of predator-prey dynamics. My current research investigates the effect of climate on the predation risk of snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) in order to better forecast the future impacts of climate change on this species. I further hope to understand whether climate-mediated increase in predation risk can have additional fitness costs in hares, and whether they have the plasticity or adaptive potential to reduce these negative costs. This research is of critical importance because the snowshoe hare is a key food source in the boreal forest.

     All my field work is conducted in the beautiful backdrop of the St. Elias Mountains just outside Kluane National Park in Yukon, Canada. I can’t think of a better place to conduct winter field work (see for yourself).

MSc Research

     Shifts in geographic distributions, resulting from climate change, have already been documented, and are estimated to increase over time. It is therefore crucial that shifts in species habitat suitability are incorporated into conservation management decisions, such as species translocations, if long-term sustainability of the released population is the primary goal. Using ecological niche modelling, I examined how the future sustainability of past reintroduction sites for North American mammals depend on their location within the species historic range. This research adds to a growing body of evidence that conservation practices need to account for shifting climate.

     De-extinction is a new conservation tool, similar to reintroduction, except that the proposed candidates are extinct. It is becoming increasingly possible as a means of restoring extinct species, but little attention has focused on its potential in the face of contemporary and future environmental change. For my Masters, I examined the change in historic and future habitat suitability for three popular de-extinction candidates to understand its feasibility and highlight potential problems that need to be addressed.

Other Research Interests

 

Snowshoe hare cycle

A large collaborative project is currently underway in the Kluane Lake region of the Yukon which will determine the factors influencing the snowshoe hare cycle. Hares fluctuate in abundance with peaks every 8-10 years and the population densities of several species in the boreal forest are linked to these cycles. Currently, I am assisting a project examining the role of food limitation on the hare cycle. We will measure its effects on the ecology, behaviour and physiology of adult hares, as well as reproduction and the quality of offspring. Anyone interested in this research should contact Yasmine Majchrzak.

 

Vertebrate Scavenging
Carrion is a valuable resource for numerous vertebrate species across the globe, and the consumption of carrion can have widespread consequences on the structure and stability of food webs. However, the ecology of scavenging communities remains understudied for most systems. Over the last four years, we have been monitoring the vertebrate scavenging community of the Kluane Lake region, and will examine how biotic and abiotic factors influence scavenging dynamics.

Please contact me if you want to discuss any of my research interests through email or over a beer!