Boyce Lab


The Boyce Lab at the University of Alberta is a research group dedicated to issues of terrestrial ecology and conservation mainly in Alberta, Canada.  Led by Dr. Mark S. Boyce, researchers in the Boyce Lab aim to develop theories of habitat ecology that will establish mechanistic links between habitats and population dynamics. By primarily using a landscape approach, the laboratory philosophy is that spatially explicit models describing habitat quality are not only necessary for assessments of population trends or viability, but are further important in recommending on-the-ground practices for the management of our natural resources.  Using priority conservation topics, the Boyce Lab provides a unique bridge between government, sportsmen, and public stakeholder interests through research.



1. Habitat Selection and Abundance.

We have been studying distribution and abundance of large mammals for several years, building on technological developments with GPS radiotelemetry and camera trapping.  Jenny Foca is examining extensive camera trap data from Elk Island National Park and adjacent Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area relating these data to abundance of 5 species of ungulates.  Grace Enns is studying stone sheep in the Cassiar Mountains of NW British Columbia to document seasonal movements and habitat selection.  Camille Warbington is using mark-resight methods for spatially explicit capture-recapture abundance estimation related to habitat selection by sitatunga, a spiral-horned antelope in papyrus marshes of Uganda.

2. Cougar Population Ecology and Prey Selection.

We have 2 M.Sc. students, Samantha Widmeyer and Meghan Beale, studying cougar behaviour and ecology with special focus on their predation on bighorns. Field studies are focused on the Cadomin area south of Hinton, Alberta.  Working with Paul Frame from Alberta Environment and Parks, Samantha will evaluate the efficacy of extended cougar hunting seasons in mountain units of western Alberta, and is examining stable isotopes to characterize diets. Meghan is monitoring radio-collared cougars to detect prey.

3. Harvesting Effects on Wildlife.

I am conducting a synthesis of the effects of hunting and other types of wildlife harvest on genetics, life history, and demography. This investigation involves research on density dependence, compensatory and additive mortality, uncertainty, and social disruptions, e.g., sexually selected infanticide. I am particularly interested in the Hydra Effect that emerges from an interaction between density dependence and harvesting. A variety of effects of hunting have been documented, but the extent and significance of these for management have not been synthesized. In addition, we have built models that can be used by Environment & Parks staff to evaluate alternative harvest policies, in particular those for elk being developed by M.Sc. student Tyler Trump and for mountain sheep by Mark BoyceMariana Nagy Baldy dos Reis is studying models for optimizing harvests of white-tailed deer in North Dakota.

4. Carbon sequestration and conservation.

Ecosystems provide many services, including carbon sequestration. We are particularly keen on the role that native grasslands can play in sequestering carbon into the soil, potentially offering an avenue for grassland conservation funded by carbon credits, with funding from the Canadian federal Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Program. Jessica Grenke is studying plant diversity in context of carbon sequestration and storage.  Timm Döbert is a postdoc who will synthesize an evaluation of adaptive multi-paddock and other grazing practices in Canada’s Great Plains and Aspen Parkland.  A Research Associate, Bharat Shrestha, is studying greenhouse gas exchange on a sample of ranches in Alberta.  Kira Dlusskaya will be developing protocols for ranchers that maximize carbon sequestration and storage based on grazing practices.  Support from the Society for Conservation Biology is sponsoring a related project on avian diversity on Canada’s grasslands.

5. Predation effects on waterfowl production.

Working with Delta Waterfowl, Emily Blythe is pursuing a M.Sc. studying the effect of mesocarnivores, particularly striped skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and corvids, on duck nesting success in central Alberta near Buffalo Lake and another study area near Viking, Alberta. In addition, Delta has installed hen houses to reduce waterfowl nest predation. We will be estimating resource selection functions to model the habitat associations of nest predation.

6. Barren-ground caribou in Nunavut.

Conor Mallory is a biologist with the Wildlife Department of the Government of Nunavut, on leave to pursue a Ph.D. in the Boyce lab to study reasons for decline of 3 arctic populations of caribou.  One hypothesis relates to the timing of caribou migration relative to the phenology of greenup of vegetation at calving grounds, and how this might be affected by climate change.