This past weekend, I attended the Alberta Chapter of the Wildlife Society Conference in Lethbridge, Alberta. This was my first time attending a conference focused on something other than birds, and I had a fantastic time. I met lots of interesting people – many from Alberta, some from outside the province. I gave a poster presentation entitled “Localization of bird songs to assess responses to oil well sites”.
It was great to get to sit through some talks about a diverse set of topics. I’d say the predominant topic was the plight of the caribou, which are declining rapidly in the province (~5-10% per year, as far as I could tell). There is a great debate going on right now as researchers attempt to identify the cause(s) of this decline. It appears to be a complex problem, driven by increased predation by wolves who have invaded the region in parallel with white-tailed deer. Somewhat counter-intuitively, saving the caribou may involve some sort of intervention with respect to white-tailed deer. Other talks that caught my attention were a talk by Lisa Takats Priestley about Northern Pygmy Owls in Alberta, and my labmate Lionel Leston’s talk about a 25-year experimental study investigating the impacts of forestry on bird populations.
One thing that struck me at this conference is how – despite working on very different study systems – wildlife biologists all face very similar challenges. For instance, the main issue in wildlife biology is that we simply can’t observe wildlife very well. Where do animals spend their time? How many animals are there? How do these animals interact with each other? How and when do animals die? All of these questions are HUGE questions, and have been for a hundred years. Only in the past ten years have we actually made significant progress, with the advent of GPS collars, mortality sensors, accelerometers, trail cameras and light-level geolocators, among other recent innovations. We really are in a golden age for wildlife research, which makes attending conferences like this one all the more exciting.