As an ecologist interested in developing wildlife conservation solutions, I focus on applied research at the interface between wildlife and people. For my Ph.D., I am studying puma ecology and conflict with herders and the role of native herbivores in the Patagonian steppe in Argentina. Parque Nacional Laguna Blanca (PNLB) is a small protected area in Neuquen province, Argentina, and is unique system for understanding conflict due to the persistence of a large carnivore (pumas) despite the elimination of its only large-sized native prey (guanacos), resulting in elevated conflict levels with humans. Almost the entire park is grazed by livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats and horses. Understanding puma behavior and ecology in these intensive-use human-modified landscapes is critical for long-term persistence of these species and maintaining ecosystem health and functioning, especially in a world where land-use change continues to threaten some of our most pristine natural systems. How do pumas adapt to a near-absence of native prey and subsist on livestock? How and where do the resulting conflicts with livestock owners occur, and are there any discernible patterns to this conflict? Are there any non-lethal deterrents that can reduce this conflict? Are guanacos functionally replaced by sheep in this non-lethal deterrents that can reduce this conflict? Are guanacos functionally replaced by sheep in this system? My objectives for my pilot field season in summer 2019 were to test some of my hypotheses related to these questions and ideas, by investigating puma space use, territoriality, and diet choices and interacting with herders in and around PNLB. During this field season, I investigated puma location clusters and kill sites in the region and established a clear way forward for testing technical solutions to reduce livestock predation by pumas. Understanding the ecological and human dimensions and drivers of these conflicts are essential if we are to move to from a landscape of intense conflict to a landscape of co-existence, where indigenous communities like the mapuche live alongside the majestic creatures that inhabit the Patagonian steppe. My previous experience includes developing and implementing solutions to manage conflict between tigers and people and elephants and people in India.
September 6, 2019