A wrap-up of Mitchell Serota’s field work in Patagonia

A wrap-up of Mitchell Serota’s field work in Patagonia
Guanacos at Monte León National Park. Photo taken by Mitchell Serota.

Over the fall, Brashares Lab member Mitchell Serota, went down to southern Patagonia for a field season. Mitch is particularly interested in understanding the socio-ecological drivers and outcomes of wildlife restoration. For part of his dissertation, he is working down in Patagonia to unravel the ecological impacts of recent conservation efforts in the region. 

The Patagonian steppe was once inhabited by abundant populations of guanacos, rheas, and their predator, pumas. Following European colonization, the population of all three species declined as herbivores were replaced by sheep across the steppe and pumas were systematically removed to protect livestock. Interestingly, local eradications of mainland predators is hypothesized to have triggered the expansion of Magellanic penguin colonies across the Atlantic coast of Argentina. Today, the creation of protected areas and other conservation endeavors have led to local increases in the puma population and the subsequent discovery of a novel predator-prey dynamic between pumas and penguins. 

While this novel interaction has generated numerous questions about the sustainability of the penguin population and its impact on pumas, the goal of this past field season was to investigate how the predation of penguins may have indirect effects on other prey species like guanacos and rheas. 

At Monte León National Park, where the research was conducted, Mitch collaborated with Rewilding Argentina and Administracion de Parques Nacionales Argentina to track pumas using GPS collars. During a previous field season, Mitch and his collaborators found that pumas were spending a significant amount of time in and near the penguin colony. However, Magellanic penguins are migratory, so they wanted to understand how puma predation changes when the penguins are gone. Do pumas switch back to guanacos? How does puma predation of penguins impact predation risk for guanacos throughout the park? Does predation of penguins increase puma density, thereby increasing predation pressure on guanacos, or do pumas become satiated resulting in a decrease in predation pressure on guanacos? To answer this question, Mitch hiked hundreds of kilometers throughout the park looking in search of evidence of puma predation. In total, he found nearly 60 guanaco kills and pretty strong evidence suggesting that pumas switch to guanacos when penguins are gone. 

Mitch is back in Berkeley now to analyze the data and write up the results. Stay tuned for future updates and articles from the research!  

Camera trap photo of a puma predating a Magellanic penguin at Monte León National Park.
Magellanic penguins at Monte León National Park. Photo taken by Mitchell Serota.

Life as a postdoc & Phoebe Parker-Shames’ current research

Life as a postdoc & Phoebe Parker-Shames’ current research
Photo by Kendall Calhoun

How does it feel being a postdoc and what have you been doing during your time as a postdoc?

It feels nice to have a bookend on a really large and important chapter of my life. Going from grad school into a postdoc, I think the postdoc phase is a little bit nebulous and confusing [because] you’re no longer a grad student, but you’re also not a professor. And so, “Who are you? What are you? What do you do?” can be a little bit amorphous. For me, that also comes with a certain level of freedom and creativity in that I get to decide what that looks like. And I also get to focus in [on my own projects]… The expectations are that you sort of get to be a little bit of a lone wolf and do your own thing as a postdoc. The tradeoff with that is that it can be kind of isolating… [postdocs are often an] invisible group of people on campus, and even I don’t know most of the other postdocs in our department. I’ve never met any others except for the ones that I sit with in my office. So there are tradeoffs. Basically, there are some things that I really love and there are things that are kind of more isolating or confusing about the role.

Besides your postdoc journey, what current research are you doing?

Right now I am managing a few different projects. The main one, the focus of my postdoc research, is actually a continuation from a grant that I applied for as a grad student. We are looking at light and noise disturbance and the responses of multi-taxa wildlife. Specifically, we are mimicking the types of light and noise disturbance that we would find on a cannabis farm, and then we are measuring the responses of flying insects, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, bats, large mammals — so trying to cover a pretty broad range of wildlife responses. That’s my work with the Brashares Lab. I’m also co-advised right now with Dr. Christopher Schell. And as part of the Schell Lab, I’m helping out with our East Bay wildlife monitoring efforts, our more local camera grid, and helping some of those data get off the ground. I am collaborating on some projects around wildlife response to COVID-19 lockdowns and the social and economic influences on wildlife distribution, so more urban ecology, environmental justice lenses. Those are my main postdoc research projects, and then at the same time I’m trying to wrap up some of the stuff from grad school, get some of those papers out the door.

Deer staring at the light treatment at Angelo Coast Range Reserve. Photo captured by research camera.
Coyote walking in front of a light treatment at Hopland Research and Extension Center. Photo captured by research camera.
Bobcat walking away from light treatment at Hopland Research and Extension Center. Photo captured by research camera.

During your experience with all of this, how has B-Lab supported you?

So first and foremost, the Brashares lab is my home base and really my core collaborators, friends, mentors along the way. Particularly with this project that I’m working on with the light and noise disturbance, Kendall and Amy have been a huge support. All of us who’ve done work at Hopland have really helped to shape this project and its trajectory and even some alums, Kaitlyn Gaynor and Alex McInturff, I think of them as the “grandparents” of this project who helped inspire a lot of what we’re doing at Hopland. Having the regular feedback from everyone in the lab and being able to bounce ideas off of them and that sense of an academic intellectual community is critical for me and how I do my work. How I enjoy working is having that interaction, communication, collaboration, brainstorming. So, the B-Lab has been critical.

Questions asked by Caroline Lobel.

Kendall Calhoun named 2023 Smith Program Fellow

Kendall Calhoun named 2023 Smith Program Fellow

Congratulations to Brashares lab member Kendall Calhoun for receiving the 2023 Smith Program postdoctoral Fellowship!

Kendall Calhoun was recently named a 2023 Smith Program postdoctoral fellow! Kendall plans to expand upon the work he began in his dissertation to examine how wildfires affect wildlife across different Californian ecosystems and measure how these changes may go on to impact interactions between wildlife and surrounding human communities.

As a fellow, Kendall will work jointly with Justine Smith’s Lab at UC Davis and Brett Furnas at the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) to complete this project. 

Check out this highlight from Berkeley for more information:


Also, check out a brief blogpost written by Kendall highlighting some key takeaways from his dissertation work and where he hopes to move next:

Welcoming a new member of Brashares’s Lab!

Coming from the other side of the world, Sheherazade, shortly called as Shera, joined the lab, and starting her PhD this Fall in the ESPM department.

A bit about Sulawesi, where Shera is from….
Sulawesi is one of the five big islands and among ~17,000 islands in Indonesia. Due to its unique geological history, Sulawesi is the land of the endemics, representing one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. With Maluku, North Maluku, lesser Sunda, and other small islands in the middle of Indonesia, Sulawesi is part of a region so-called Wallacea, named after and described by the British naturalist – Alfred Russel Wallace, who developed the idea of evolution by natural selection based on his trips in the archipelago, in parallel and independently from Charles Darwin (recommended book: The Malay Archipelago).

Few snapshots from Sulawesi land/seascapes and wildlife that cannot be found anywhere else in the world

A view from the mountain top in Central Sulawesi. © Sheherazade
A clear water part of Togean National Park, Central Sulawesi. © Sheherazade

Forsten’s Tortoise (Indotestudo forstenii) was found in two villages in Central Sulawesi. © Sheherazade
Anoa (Bubalus sp.) were found in two villages in Central Sulawesi. © Sheherazade
A wild Talaud Cuscus (Ailurops melanotis) was spotted foraging in the canopy of a lowland forest on Salibabu Island, North Sulawesi. © Sheherazade

A bit about Shera’s works…
On October 14th, 2022, Shera presented her works in ESPM Wildlife Conservation Seminar on combining science and compassion to protect Sulawesi’s threatened yet overlooked wildlife. She started her talk by describing the context of economic development in Indonesia, which was a main conservation challenge and how her previous works in the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia entailed supports to the government to strengthen their science-based approach in protected areas and species management. While working full-time in WCS, Shera continued her MS research works in bat ecosystem services and hunting and together with her colleague, Mba Anim, established flying fox conservation programs in Banggai, Central Sulawesi. With her heart always in Sulawesi, the land that nurtured her sense of wonder and love toward nature, Shera decided to build an NGO called PROGRES (www.progressulawesi.id) with Mba Anim to use the lesson learned from bat conservation and expand the works to protect other Sulawesi endemics, such as tortoises, cuscus, and freshwater fish. This wildlife experiences the same issues, threatened with little to no conservation attention. Together with the local community across Sulawesi, these two Sulawesi native women, leading with compassion, initiated locally led efforts to protect Sulawesi’s valuable biodiversity.