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Steven Garcia 12/5/2017

Synthesis Report
Social Behavior and Communication of Gorillas
Gorillas are known for complex social structures encompassing a variety of behaviors
and communication. Gorillas are widely distributed across 9 African nations and studies have
mainly categorized them as either western or eastern gorillas. Eastern Gorillas have received
much more attention and have been studied more intensely. Eastern Gorillas are often referred to
as mountain gorillas and live in an environment that is much different than their western
counterparts. It has been observed that the differences in predation, food availability, climate,
and habitat structure have changed reproductive behavior, emigration, and group compositions
between these two distinct Gorilla populations (Maestripieri & Ross, 2004)
Western Gorilla females have been observed to prefer smaller groups compared to
Eastern Female Gorillas. Western gorillas face higher intragroup food competition due to higher
seasonal food availability and clumped food sources. Therefore, smaller groups allow female
gorillas less competition and a reproductive edge (Maestripieri & Ross, 2004). In contrast,
eastern gorilla females prefer multimale groups compared to solo male groups to reduce risk of
infanticide. If a solo male group loses its only male silverback, its females will experience
infanticide of non-weaned babies by the new and younger male trying to gain control of the
group (Maestripieri & Ross, 2004). This does not happen as often in multimale groups which is
why it is preferred by the eastern females. These female preferences control group compositions
in these populations and dictate increases or decreases in male emigration.
Gorilla social structures are built in the individual from a young age. We can use the
simple act of play as an example. Western Gorillas play behavior has been studied in reference to
which sex they play with. Due to the sexual dimorphism Gorillas exhibit, and the role of males
protecting the group from conspecifics and predators; it was hypothesized and found that males
exhibit higher frequencies of play time and play mostly with other males (Robbins et al, 2004). It
was also hypothesized and found that because females are highly attracted to breeding males,
they should mostly play with males (Robbins et al, 2004). This is incredible in part because it
shows the foundations of the Gorilla social structure begin at a very early age.
Social behavior can be studied at an even closer individual level at zoos. Individual
behavior studies have gone to extremes in trying to predict future Gorilla behavior. One study by
Gold and Maple (2006) involved the creating of a Gorilla Behavior Index which tried
characterizing individual Gorilla behavior by analyzing 4 behavioral profile factors. These were
extroverted, dominant, fearful, and understanding. A few obvious results were found in that
animals scoring low on understanding or high on dominant were more likely to produce
aggression behaviors. Although this research study has many gaps and is not thorough enough, it
can pave the way for more intensive studies that will allow conservationist and managers to
better access groups and the formation of new ones.
Social Behavior and Communication in animals is a field of study that takes more time
and patience to study than most other fields. Answers cannot be found immediately, subjects
must be studied alive and in real time through several observations, and observations must be
repeated several times. It is often harder to isolate the objective of the study, as social structures
and communication are complex and are influenced by a host of seen and unseen factors. For
example, Gorillas are very social creatures and have a structured society. In this society, one
silverback male leads the group while being support by a smaller subordinate silverback. These
two males are in charge of protecting the group’s females and young. The group forages,
grooms, protect, and occasionally fight each other with the Silverback leader sometimes
mediating the fights (Robbins et al, 2004). Moreover, these individuals exhibit deeply unique
personalities which influence what actions they may take. The combination of these complexities
makes it very hard to predict Gorilla behavior, unlike many other animals which seem to run
more like a programmable machine that lives life through different triggers instead of lucid
This challenge however, guards a huge reward. Knowing how complex social structures
function allows us to predict future events as well as make better management decisions, whether
they be saving a species or annihilating an invasive one. Management of a species depends on
one’s understanding of that species. Future Gorillas may have heavily restricted habitat and
range. At that point managers may only be able to focus on keeping the remaining Gorilla
communities as healthy as possible. By understanding Gorillas, we may discover hidden
behavioral cues of the group which may hint at future underlying dangers. Gains from this early
alert system research can be applied to the research of other species such as the chimpanzee and
may help managers predict future problems and prepare for them before they strike.
Learning more about Gorillas will ultimately lead us to learn more about ourselves. We
share 98% of our DNA with Gorillas. Due to these huge similarities we can expect that learning
about Gorilla behavior may give us clues to how our behavior evolved and why we may think
the way we do today. Finding more similarities can also help influence public opinion since it
will make Gorillas more human. This inherent human nature in Gorillas will inherently draw
more emotional empathy drawing more funding and resources.
Learning the behavioral tendencies of individual Gorillas whether it be through an
intensive behavior index like the GDI or simple observations can give wildlife managers
information on how to successfully create new groups which can be introduced to new areas. For
example, a manager looking to create and introduce a group into the wild will first focus on the
lead and supporting silverback. By picking a leader with a high dominant and low fearful profile
factor and a supporting silverback with a lower dominant and higher understanding the manager
will increase the chance that the two main silverbacks will work together to protect the group
(Gold & Maple, 2006). This can be applied to other species but may not be as effective.
Behavioral preferences of sexes can affect population sex composition, population sizes,
emigration rates, and survival rates. Learning about these behavioral preferences can allow
conservation managers to make more educated decisions on how to set up populations.
An example of this can be seen in the study on Eastern/Western female gorilla
preferences. Western females preferred smaller groups due to intragroup competition and eastern
females preferred multimale groups to reduce risk of infanticide. With this information,
managers on the western African territory would have to worry more about group size compared
to group male composition to increase female reproductive success. Small research victories
such as these pile up usable data that begins to make a difference in conservation work.
With usable habitat shrinking every day, our only options as conservationist may be to
keep small populations of species alive in carefully picked territories. The problem that arises
with smaller fragmented populations is that they are more susceptible to genetic problems as well
exhibiting a lower amount of resistance to extinction by disturbance. To conserve these future
populations managers will need an immense amount of communication between one another as
well as a huge library of data to form fit the needs of their unique population to maximize

Research Gaps:
Social behavior and communication is an area of study that has many research gaps,
especially in Gorillas. This species faces greater challenges in study due to their complex social
structure, long lives, and slow life history strategies. In researching this topic, I found that many
of the studies did not have any or much supplemental/supporting data. Many of these studies also
lacked the money, time, and manpower to perform objectives thoroughly and in the proper way.
This is problematic because the lack of progress will inherently cripple our ability to save this
species when their population begin to reach dangerously low numbers. This is not a problem of
if but of when and how we will we save this species.
For example, the study about the Gorilla Behavioral Index contained many holes in the
data. This study only used captive gorillas as it would be very hard to perform this study in the
wild. However, this makes it hard to reliably apply this data to wild populations. Moreover,
while over 98% of captive gorillas were surveyed for the GBI assessment, behavioral data was
collected on only 21 animals at 2 institutions. With each animal only contributing 4 hours of data
to the study. These low rates of behavioral data reduce the reliability of GBI assessments since
there is no way of backing up their rankings for most of the Gorillas.
This is not an issue of researcher incompetence but mainly one of time, manpower, and
money limitations. This is a problem that plagues many studies and is problematic because it
reduces effectiveness. So much so that several studies must be stacked throughout the decades to
achieve what one properly funded study can do by itself.
When regarding the problem of insufficient funds, time, and manpower; there are limited
options. We can ask for nations to put in more money for Gorilla conservation, but this is highly
political and hard to achieve. Quantity and size of marketing campaigns can also increase
revenue and volunteers from the public, but this also requires immediate investment. I believe
that the best way to invest in the Gorillas is to invest in the nations that house them. Uplifting
these broken nations and educating them will greatly reduce the human pressures on the Gorillas.
Moreover, if the Gorillas become part of the identity of the nation they will find more value in
them and protection will increase. This type of campaign became hugely successful in the
conservation of the Tiger by the WWF and should be adopted throughout conservation practices.
These behavioral studies also share a common problem as they leave more questions
unanswered and often create new questions to be answered. Due to the complexity of social
behavior and the many potential causes and effects. It can be hard to design a study that
completely isolates the hypothesis. For example, the study on female Gorilla preferences
displays this view. Even though population structure differences were observed between the two
respective populations, the differences were only slight. Moreover, the researchers
acknowledged that this perceived difference could have been caused by a variety of other factors
that are lacking research.
Problems like this may be resolved by revisiting these studies with a better plan and
funding. This will allow researchers to build on past research and improve the process a second
time around. Using this method, they may be able to better answer the original question or
answer questions created by the initial study. However, I am confident that this is a problem that
will slowly diminish with time as we learn how to better design experiments. As well as utilize
the ever-increasing bank of data to isolate hypotheses. Conservation success will depend on
knowing information from a variety of fields as well as gaining the right amount of influence and
money to apply what we know.

Discussion Questions:
• Does Gorilla behavior/social dynamics change as population and outside pressure
• Why is most behavioral research being done on chimpanzees if Gorillas are more
• What sort of research challenges do Gorillas provide compared to Chimpanzees and vice
Works Cited:

Robbins, M. M., Bermejo, M., Cipolletta, C., Magliocca, F., Parnell, R. J., &
Stokes, E. (2004). Social structure and life‐history patterns in western gorillas
(Gorilla gorilla gorilla). American Journal of Primatology, 64(2), 145-159.
Kuhar, C. W., Stoinski, T. S., Lukas, K. E., & Maple, T. L. (2006). Gorilla
behavior index revisited: age, housing and behavior. Applied animal behaviour
science, 96(3), 315-326.
Maestripieri, D., & Ross, S. R. (2004). Sex differences in play among
western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) infants: implications for adult
behavior and social structure. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 123(1),
Popular Media Article Summary

Fathers can influence the sex of their offspring, scientists


Summary: A team of scientist at Oxford’s school of zoology have found that fathers can
influence the sex of their offspring. This study used white footed mice in lab conditions and
found a relationship between the father’s genetic quality and his proportion of son and daughters.
This is controlled by a trait affecting the size of the sperm nuclei which effectively controls
proportion of x and y sperm. Fathers with a higher genetic quality produce sperm with smaller
head nuclei which in turn provides a higher proportion of y sperm which in turn produce more
sons than daughters. This discovery can be studied with other males in other mammalian species
but may be less clear depending on their mating systems.

Reaction: I thought this article was really cool after learning about all the ways females can
control almost all of the reproductive variables while the males are just sperm delivery systems.
Learning that males can have a larger control on the sex of the offspring can open up a new field
of study as well as provide opportunity for more accurate sex population models. Researching
this can also be extremely important for conservation of critically endangered species because
more knowledge on sex influences can be used to successfully produce young of the needed sex.
This makes me think about all of the other discoveries that are waiting to be discovered as well
as what sort of things are we learning that aren’t exactly true as we know it? Discoveries like this
excite me and provide promise that the great science frontier still exist and waiting to be
Synthesis Report
Elephant Ecosystem Engineering
Elephants are the largest land mammals on earth and exert powerful influences on the
structure and function of their respective ecosystems. Due to these influences Elephants are
referred to as Ecosystem Engineers. Like beavers, elephants will change the landscape they live
in. Many of these effects have been of concern to humans since the damage to plants can be
immense, causing one to question their actual effect on the ecosystem. Like the beaver,
Elephants have become a nuisance species in many parts of the world and have a history of being
“culled” to control their “over population”.

However, intensive research in this topic is proving that the opinions viewing elephants
as a nuisance species may indeed be false. A study by Haynes (2012) summarizes all the
different ways Elephants sculpt the landscape and engineer the ecosystem. Elephants will often
dig large holes or trenches to create a well or reach mineral deposits. They also re-structure the
bottom of pond beds and relocate the sediment stuck on their feet. Elephants can directly affect
the chemical composition of an area by the large accumulations and trampling of their dung,
albeit these effects on the pH level are locally concentrated. The influence of most concern is the
Elephants ability to affect vegetational communities. Elephants consume large quantities of plant
material and damage many stands and bushes in the process. Because of this, groups of
Elephants can remove large patches of woody vegetation and can open grounds for other
herbivores and plant communities.

Negative effects on trees is obvious and largely understood. However, research studies
have confirmed many of the positive effects on understory species. A study by Coverdale et al
(2016) showed that elephants had neutral effects on most (83–89%) species, with a similar
frequency of positive and negative responses among the remainder. Interestingly, “understory
biomass and species richness beneath elephant damaged trees were 55% and 21% greater
respectively, than under undamaged trees” (Coverdale et al, 2016). The scientist hypothesized
that this happened because elephants create associational refuges for understory plants by
damaging tree canopies in ways that physically inhibit feeding by other large herbivores
(Coverdale et al, 2016). This hypothesis was confirmed by the changes in species richness and
biomass as well as seeing a 71% drop in herbivory by using camera trap surveys. Through the
destruction of woody vegetation, Elephants facilitate understory plants by creating refuges from
other herbivores. This balances the direct effects of consumption and increases large scale
biomass and diversity by promoting the persistence of rare and palatable species (Coverdale et
al, 2016).

Downed woody debris will not only create associational refuges for understory plants but
for small vertebrates as well. One study done by Pringle (2008) shows this relationship with the
common arboreal lizard. Observational surveys as well as lizard transplant experiments showed
that lizards prefer trees that have been damaged whether it be by elephants or simulated by
humans. The study also found that lizards vacated trees when associational refuges were
removed. Moreover, local lizard densities increased with local densities of elephant damaged
trees (Pringle, 2008). This research disagrees with similar studies on effects on lizards via the
landscape scale. This suggest that elephant effects on species will vary depending on the scale
we view them in.

This research is incredibly important for the future conservation of Elephants and their
ecosystem. Research on the effects of Elephant Ecosystem Engineering give us a better
understanding on exactly how Elephants fit into the ecosystem. More understanding brings in a
higher potential on how to better manage the species and their environment. Being informed
about the positive effects of Elephants on their environments will allow wildlife managers to
create more suitable parcels of land for Elephants and co-species. For example, a manager
without this information may try to build barriers between Elephants and patches of woody
vegetation for their protection. This is not only costly, but as we have learned will reduce the
understory biomass, diversity, and access to new patches by smaller herbivores.
According to Coverdale et al (2016) “our results offer a counterpoint to concerns about
the deleterious impacts of elephant “overpopulation” that should be considered in debates over
wildlife management in African protected areas: understory species comprise the bulk of savanna
plant biodiversity, and their responses to elephants are buffered by the interplay of opposing
consumptive and non-consumptive interactions”. This provides a contrast to management
practices that were used in the 70’s and 80’s where thousands of Elephants were culled to reduce
damages caused by their “overpopulation”.
However, Elephants will struggle to lose their reputation as a nuisance species for the
people living in tandem with them. Elephants cause harm to manmade structures such as fences,
infrastructure, and even the homes of locals. This is a problem that is hard to prevent since
Elephants are so large and need considerable barriers to prevent their movement. One of the
ways we may be able to diagnose this is by better management of human communities. By
managing the location and growth of these communities we can limit human-elephant
interactions. Educating locals about how to better protect from these damages by creating areas
that Elephants would not favor may also help to prevent damage. We can look at North Jersey
Black Bear management as an example. Education on how to bear proof communities seem to be
the best way to prevent human-bear conflicts. Elephant management should be no different.
Management changing information is even more valuable today as Elephants face greater
pressures than ever through habitat loss, increasing levels of poaching, and deregulation of
protective laws. This kind of research will provide more insights on how valuable Elephants are
will further ingrain their reputation of a keystone species. This can increase public awareness and
funding as their importance in their ecosystem increases. Understanding these effects will
provide better understanding of affected species. The common arboreal lizard is a perfect
example. These lizards prefer more complex structures, most likely because they provide better
cover from potential prey. A herpetologist may find this information extremely valuable when
conserving this species or other similar lizard species. This spills over with understanding
herbivore-plant dynamics. If there are plant species that are being overgrazed by smaller
herbivores a manager may decide to influence Elephants to enter the area and provide refuges for
these over browsed plants. Similarly, this can also provide herbivores access to areas once
blocked by woody vegetation which will passively manage overgrown areas. Elephants may be
looked at assistant managers in the future instead of inhibitors of efficient management.

Research Gaps:
Like other new fields, many effects of Elephant Ecosystem Engineering are not well
understood. Current research findings are often more general and applied to groups instead of
individual species. However, this is expected since it is useful to have base data set up before
going in depth into the effects of other species. It is important to keep this in mind as the current
research deals with simple trophic effects and relationships.
Among some of the simple relationships studied were increases in diversity and biomass.
The study by Coverdale et al (2016) hypothesized this was because Elephants created
associational refuges which protected the more palatable and rarer species from consumption.
However, I found this to be a very one dimensional reason with no other possibilities being
explored or even mentioned. This can be easily tested in other studies to test for other variables
affecting biomass and diversity.
The specifics of supporting topics such as effects on herbivores, water structures/quality,
grassland expansion, and carnivore effects have not been researched at all. Elephants are sure to
have effects on these variables but the lack of time and complex nature of trophic dynamics will
slow down the pace of the research. One research study that could be interesting is how
carnivores like lions react to downed woody vegetation patches as cover for hunting. As
elephants open up to corridors for herbivores, it can also create patches of cover along these
corridors perfect for ambushes. This study would increase our understanding of relationships
between the lions and elephants. This sort of research can open up the doors for other forms of
research based on prey-predator positive effects.
Pringle (2008) mentioned how lizard densities changed depending on the scale we
viewed them in. They did not try to explain why this would be the case which seems to be a very
important factor in the study. It would be interesting to see research done on this. This sort of
scale specific affect may be applied to different effects caused by Elephant Ecosystem
Research Questions:
• Why is this research concentrated with African Elephants and not Asian Elephants? Are
they not as destructive?
• Are there any factors in Elephants that may change the amount of woody vegetation that
they destroy? Factors that deal with personality, circannual behavioral changes, and
physiological differences.

Works Cited

Coverdale, T. C., Kartzinel, T. R., Grabowski, K. L., Shriver, R. K., Hassan,

A. A., Goheen, J. R., ... & Pringle, R. M. (2016). Elephants in the understory:
opposing direct and indirect effects of consumption and ecosystem engineering by
megaherbivores. Ecology, 97(11), 3219-3230.

Haynes, G. (2012). Elephants (and extinct relatives) as earth-movers and

ecosystem engineers. Geomorphology, 157, 99-107.

Pringle, R. M. (2008). Elephants as agents of habitat creation for small

vertebrates at the patch scale. Ecology, 89(1), 26-33.
Popular Media Article Summary

Elephants Averaging 2 Hours of Sleep per day, Scientist


Summary: This article summarizes a study done by scientist where they observed a pair of
African Elephant matriarchs for more than a month. These scientist found that these Elephants
slept for an average of two hours every night. They did this by placing GPS trackers and actiwath
implants which act like elephant fitbits to measure activity levels. These two hours were not
continuous and were spread out through short bouts of napping throughout the night. Elephants
slept lying down every few days while dreaming just as infrequently. In contrast, Elephants in
the zoo sleep about four to six hours each day. Scientist are not completely sure why this
happens and is one of the many mysteries associated with sleep.
Reaction: I found this article very interesting. We are taught and assume that all living things
need to sleep to survive. We may not know why but there does not seem to be a need to question
it. This study on Elephants sleep cycles seems implausible, especially when talking about such a
large animal which would seem like would need more sleep than usual. I believe large periods of
sleeplessness may happen when the Elephant senses predators and cannot afford the vulnerability
cause by sleep. However, this does not explain how elephants are able to do this. This may be a
trait that was evolved into them and may be a new adaptation that needs further study.
Synthesis Report
Trophic Cascades of the Gray Wolf
It is widely known that predators have deep reaching effects that shape the structure and
functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Although many of these effects are not widely known for
many predatory species, the Gray Wolf is an exception. The Gray Wolf has had a long and
tumultuous history with wildlife management. Significant culling of gray wolves began to
protect the intense hide and market hunting industries and largely resulted in the loss of
ecologically effective populations by the early 1900’s (Beschta & Ripple, 2009). The loss and re-
introduction of the Gray wolf in many of America’s ecosystems has provided researchers with an
excellent opportunity to learn about trophic cascades.

The removal of Gray Wolves in Yellowstone National Park changed the top down trophic
influences which began to imbalance the ecosystem. The wolf was the Elk’s most feared and
effective predator and its loss altered Elk movement, browsing patterns, and foraging behavior
(Ripple, Larsen, Renkin & Smith, 2001). The combination of these variables allowed the Elk to
reach a peak of 19,000 individuals before the return of the wolves (Smith, Peterson, & Houston,
2003). This only increased the negative effects on ecological degradation. One study by Ripple,
Larsen, Renkin & Smith (2001) on quaking aspen showed that areas with a high wolf use had
significantly higher aspen sucker heights than in areas with low wolf use. Other studies have
shown an overall decline/absence of deciduous tree recruitment; interestingly, areas enclosed in
fences show a return to normal tree recruitment numbers and diversely aged stands (Beschta &
Ripple, 2009). These imbalances that follow the loss of an apex predator can be seen in other
ecosystems. For example, wolves have been absent in the highlands of Scotland since the mid-
1700’s and have resulted in ecological degradation by red deer over browsing (Beschta &
Ripple, 2009).

Over browsing of plants influences soil and hydrology systems by increasing their
susceptibility to erosion by rain and stream banks. For example, channel measurements from
photos of Olympic National Park showed wider active channels and a greater percent braiding in
areas where elk densities and browsing were lower (Beschta & Ripple, 2009). Wolves have also
shown to have positive influences on fellow predators and scavengers. A study by Wilmers,
Crabtree, Smith, Murphy & Getz (2003) showed that wolves subsidize scavengers with carrion
as well as change the timing of the resource from pulsed availability to a more favorable and
constant availability throughout the winter months. This resource and timing subsidy may in turn
increase biodiversity and lead to larger populations of scavengers. Overall the presence of the
Gray Wolf yields many positive effects. Most of which are indirect and come from the wolf
predation of Elk and other prey.
North American Gray wolves have given researchers and wildlife managers a great
library of data due to their rich history with humans. Unlike most apex predators, we have had
opportunities to look at ecosystems before wolves were removed, after they were removed, and
once they were re-introduced. These periods of active and inactive predation have allowed us to
research the trophic cascades of wolves, a study area that is largely lacking in data.

Understanding the trophic interactions between carnivores, consumers, and producers are
important in determining ecosystem structure and dynamics (Beschta & Ripple, 2009). As we
saw, gray wolves provide a number of services to the ecosystem. Some examples include,
keeping a check on Elk populations by removing the weak young and old, introduce the ecology
of fear to prevent over browsing, and supplement other carnivore/scavengers with carrion to
support increased biodiversity. Moreover, understanding the tropic cascades of the gray wolf will
provide base data for other similar apex predators which may affect their ecosystems in a similar
way. In this manner, doing work with the rich data of Yellowstone wolves will spill over into
carnivores such as the coyote, cougar, and grizzly bear.

This information is extremely valuable to wildlife managers and has changed the way we
conserve our ecosystems. Before we were familiar with the trophic influences of the gray wolf
we culled them to the point of extinction in man ranges. This resulted in an overabundance in
some ungulate species (especially elk) and range deterioration became an issue. This led to an
intense and controversial management method in which populations of elk, bison, and pronghorn
were reduced by field shooting and trapping (Smith, Peterson & Houston, 2003).

As one can imagine these management practices required large budgets of time and
resources and did not produce the same results as natural wolf control. A moratorium on
reductions in 1969 eventually led to the culmination of the gray wolf restoration (Smith, Peterson
& Houston, 2003). Managers and conservationist quickly saw that ungulates and over browsed
vegetation could be naturally managed by the wolves themselves. This saved wildlife managers
money, time, and resources could be prioritized for other projects. This idea of using native
natural controls can spillover to other apex predators. Wildlife managers can use this
management method to breed captive carnivore populations and release them into areas that have
been suffering from ecological degradation caused by herbivores. For example, we can use the
Yellowstone experiment as a model for introducing wolves into New Jersey to control deer
populations. This is merely an idea and the prospects of re-introducing this species into such a
populated state is extremely challenging.

This field of study has positive prospects as there is “an increasing awareness in other
parts of the world that existing large carnivores may be necessary for maintaining native species
biodiversity and, where possible, large carnivore recovery may be needed to reverse ecological
degradation” (Beschta & Ripple, 2009). Data on this will be invaluable to wildlife managers
throughout the world and will prevent them from making the costly mistake Americans made in
destroying predator populations.
Research Gaps:
In science new ideas are relative as most scientific ideas are new. Research on trophic
cascades is no exemption which is why this field is not intensely studied or understood. Gray
wolf trophic cascades make up almost all of the familiar research material. With other predators
such as the cougar, grizzly bear, and coyote significantly lacking in our understanding of their
trophic influences. However, we can deduce that the effects may be similar in nature as all of
these carnivores occupy similar roles in their ecosystem. We can hope that these gaps in
knowledge will be filled in with time as this field has not had optimum time and resources to be
studied properly.

However, there are a couple of prominent research gaps that I found particularly
interesting and should be followed up on. For example, researchers found that wolves directly
influence the behavior of Elk through the ecology of fear. Similarly, there has not been sufficient
research done in how Wolves influence the behavior of other groups of animals. For example, it
was observed that Grizzly bears began to seek out wolf killed carrion and contest this resource
with Grizzlies often winning; in one case it was observed that one Grizzly bear held 24 wolves at
bay for some stolen carrion (Smith, Peterson & Houston, 2003). This can be followed up on
other scavengers to see if they too start to actively seek out wolf carrion instead of other
secondary food sources to increase the fitness of themselves and kin.

Research gains in this field have been accomplished by contrasting ecosystems that
contain or lack an apex predator. Unfortunately, this provides us with data after damage has been
done to an ecosystem. Beschta & Ripple (2009) state that “a better understanding of how top-
down and bottom-up forces interact over a range of temporal and spatial scales is needed for
ecosystems where predator prey guilds remain intact”. Being able to identify the positive forces
before the predator is lost will give conservationist material to advocate for the protection of
these predators.

It is known that 57 species of beetle depend on elk carrion in Yellowstone national park
(Beschta & Ripple, 2009). This is known from simple observations and quick collection of
carrion sites. It is not known how these wolf killed carrion ultimately effect these beetle or
overall insect populations. This research can be valuable to entomologist and there is a great
potential for branched research to be done by both fields.

Overall, the research gaps in this field are caused by a lack of time and resources. This is
a problem of that plagues many research topics in the environmental field. Investigating this
topic further will be more immediately beneficial than say behavioral research because it will
bring more data that is directly relevant to the conservation of the ecosystems.

Research Questions:
• Are there any known relationships where herbivores cause dramatic trophic cascades
comparable to those of apex carnivores?
• Are there any long term negative effects on ecosystems caused by apex carnivores
Works Cited
Beschta, R. L., & Ripple, W. J. (2009). Large predators and trophic cascades in terrestrial
ecosystems of the western United States. Biological Conservation, 142(11), 2401-2414.

Ripple, W. J., Larsen, E. J., Renkin, R. A., & Smith, D. W. (2001). Trophic cascades
among wolves, elk and aspen on Yellowstone National Park’s northern range. Biological
conservation, 102(3), 227-234.

Smith, D. W., Peterson, R. O., & Houston, D. B. (2003). Yellowstone after wolves.
BioScience, 53(4), 330-340.

Wilmers, C. C., Crabtree, R. L., Smith, D. W., Murphy, K. M., & Getz, W. M. (2003).
Trophic facilitation by introduced top predators: grey wolf subsidies to scavengers in
Yellowstone National Park. Journal of Animal Ecology, 72(6), 909-916.
Popular Media Article Summary
Why predators have such crazy faces

Summary: In this article scientist asked why many predators sport patterns on their face and
chest even though they do not have significant body camouflage. To answer this question,
scientist collected photographs of 164 mammalian predators and analyzed the amount of
colors/shades present as well as how these colors contrasted. Depending on these variables each
predator was given a complexity score. Scientist found that dogs with complex facial colorations
were more social as likely used these marking to distinguish one another. In vivverids complex
coloration was more common against predators that fought with other predators and may be used
as a warning. In bears, a higher complexity coincided with overlapping ranges and may help
identify other members of the species. In mustelids, complex faces served as a warning from
their noxious anal gland fluid. Although some families of carnivores came back with
inconclusive data this study shows that there are different evolutionary drivers for coloration in

Analysis: This article was extremely interesting to me. I always wonder about how present day
traits in different species came to be. Markings in carnivores are often generalized to be for
camouflage to improve hunting. However, these marking are often not for a singular purpose and
can serve many functions. What even more interesting is that many of these species evolved this
markings individually for different reasons. This mystery is even more evident in monkeys and
apes as many have complex coloration patterns and most scientist have no idea as how they
evolved them. This bring an idea to mind that scientist don’t ever talk about. Traits are always
thought to be evolved because they increase the fitness and survival of the individual. However,
what if some traits are “accidently” evolved for a relative short amount of time and are a product
of other environmental factors? This is merely a theory and it makes me question why we aren’t
looking at the other side of the question. In this age of science where we are laid out a path of
how we should think I believe we need more people with more unique and revolutionary ideas to
create new paths of discovery.
Final Reflection
As an environmental science major with a wildlife concentration, I was very excited to
take a class like mammalogy. Courses such as mammalogy and ornithology go in depth with a
specific group of animals and allow you to gain information on that specific group at a scale not
obtainable in other more general classes. I had an expectation that this class was going to be
more about the memorization of general mammal physiological structure and taxonomy, similar
to the course structure of an anatomy class. To my pleasant surprise this class was not that and
instead had a perfect balance of anatomy, taxonomy, evolutionary theory, life cycle theory,
biological theories, and behavioral theories among many more. I enjoyed this structure because it
allowed us to learn about all the important fields of study related to mammals. Fields that are
important to know collectively and how they were connected to each other compared to a narrow
focus on the memorization of mammal anatomy and taxonomy.
Although all of the topics that we went over were interesting, there were a few that really
stood out for me. Amongst the first was social behavior and communication. Humans primarily
use sight and sound for communication and in a way that is very specific through language
and/or visual cues. Although non-human mammals use sight and sound to communicate it is
done is a completely different manner which sometimes seems a lot more vague and general than
the way we do it. Non-human mammals will combine different forms of communication and will
put a greater emphasis on non-visual communication. Learning about why they communicate
and how they evolved was fascinating.
Evolutionary theory behind social behaviors was another topic I was excited to learn
about. Before this class I never really thought about why many apes and monkeys have social
hierarchies. For example, the evolution of social hierarchies and facial coloration in mandrills
may have evolved to reduce interspecies fighting among males. Information like this changed the
way I view social behaviors of species and has even changed the way I look at the behaviors and
patterns in humanity. I know that a class has had a deep influence on me when class teachings
create deep roots in the way I perceive the world. I often catch myself thinking about common
behavioral problems in humanity and think about how many of these may have underlying
evolutionary influences. For example, the concept of monogamy in human is perceived as the
positive norm and individuals are negatively perceived when they practice polygamy. Thinking
about why this may be the case is interesting.
Other more negative and violent behaviors may be explained and understood in this
manner. Of course this is not to be used as an excuse to the existence of these behaviors as we
are humans, and possess a higher level of thinking that allows us to detach ourselves from certain
violent and negative animalistic behaviors. Other topics learned in class have had a similar effect
on me but it is clear to me the social behaviors and communication among organisms has had the
most profound impact.
This course provided us variety of ways for us to learn new information. This was
important because we all learn in different ways and this kept the learning process fresh and
dynamic. It is difficult for me to say what allowed me to learn the most as every mode of
learning was connected and built upon each other. However, if I were to pick one it would be the
combination of the in home reading and completions of the RQ’s. This was often the first
exposure we had to a new topic and the book provided an easy segway into the topic. The
readings were easily digestible and provided an amount of depth that was relevant to the wildlife
field. Completing the RQ’s immediately after the reading cemented the newly found data into
our brains and forced us to think past what we learned. The other modes of learning re-enforced
what we initially learned and added to our banks of knowledge. Throughout this process we were
“coerced” by Dr. Tredick into thinking critically and think outside the box as well as guiding our
thinking and pointing out lapses in our logic. Overall, the learning process was very well
organized and properly designed.
Personally, I thought that I handled the reading and assignments better than I have in the
past. There is always room for improvement and I believe we should always strive for self-
improvement up until our time on earth ends. The thing I lacked in the most in this class was my
performance during the group talks and presentations. I often struggle in synthesizing
information in real time and communicating it in a public speaking setting. This is an important
skill to have in the future and is not to be overlooked. I believe that I could improve upon this by
simply preparing for these activities more as well as changing the way I think about them. A lot
of times I make myself nervous by overthinking the simple process of communication and see
public speaking as just something I have to get through. However, through more practice and
planning I will see that it isn’t as bad as my mind makes it and seeing it as an opportunity to
share my thoughts and ideas will improve my performance.
I could not find any ways to significantly improve the ways we can learn in class. The
course provided all of the necessary resources and structure to support a student to learn
efficiently. I have seen Dr. Tredick tweak her class structure since my first class with her
(Ecological Principles) to my last one (Mammalogy) and have seen significant improvement
through each one. I especially like how she has taken student feedback into consideration and has
changed some course dynamics because of it. The only thing I may be able to add is that it would
be very cool if there was some way to bring in mammals in class or take a trip to a zoo to see
these teachings in person and in real time. I understand there may be class/university limitations
but the idea of it is interesting.
The portfolio was important because it provided us with the freedom to personally seek
more knowledge about fields of study we learned from through the class structure. The portfolio
gave me the opportunity to pursue questions I had about certain species and allowed me to
quench the thirst I had developed after learning about especially interesting fields. Giving the
student the power to choose where he steers his education is extremely engaging to the mind and
makes learning easier. This freedom allowed me to connect the dots between the different areas
of study we learned and synthesize them into a cohesive and straight to report. These portfolios
forced me to familiarize myself with the process of initial research, brainstorming on how to tie
ideas together, and synthesizing/transferring this connected knowledge into a cohesive report.
The fact that we had to do this multiple times during the semester made me improve my methods
every time and I noticed an improvement in data absorption.
The only thing I believe needed to be tweaked was how the species profiles were set up.
The high volume of species made the process of researching species a bit autonomous and
personally caused me to lose interest in species since there was so many to do. I think it could
beneficial if we reduce the amount of species we have to research (possibly reduce it to 2 species
per order) and increase the amount we have write about each species. This will reduce the
amount of species we look at but will allow the student have a more in depth exposure to each
order and associated species. Hopefully, this will break up the autonomous nature that sometimes
came when doing the species profile. Overall I thought this course was excellent and am deeply
saddened that this will be the last course with Dr. Tredick. A professor that has had one of the
largest positive influences of my college career.