Research

The Abrahms Lab is housed in the University of Washington Department of Biology's Center for Ecosystem Sentinels. The Center's mission is to advance the understanding and conservation of species that act as sentinels to the state of the environment by linking results from multi-disciplinary science to effective policy outcomes. From African carnivores to marine birds and mammals, the Abrahms lab combines fieldwork, modeling, and interdisciplinary approaches to advance the ecology and conservation of sentinel species. Our research centers on three themes:

A Northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) is fitted with a satellite tag and weighed prior to migration. Photo Credit: Jason Bradley

Linking environmental change to animal behavior, fitness, and community dynamics

How animals choose to move and behave in response to their environment can have profound impacts on individual performance, population dynamics, and community interactions. Our research examines these linkages and seeks to quantify the consequences of environmental change on wildlife behavior, ecology, and conservation. Such understanding can provide a window into how and why wildlife communities will be affected by ongoing human-induced rapid environmental change and help target conservation interventions.

Relevant Publications:

Abrahms, B., Hazen, E.L., Bograd, S.J., Brashares, J.S., Robinson, P.W., Scales, K.L., D. Crocker and Costa, D.P. 2018. Climate mediates the success of migration strategies in a marine predator. Ecology Letters, 21: 63-71.

Abrahms, B., Scales, K.L., Hazen, E.L., Bograd, S.J., Schick, R.S., Robinson, P.W., and Costa, D.P. 2018. Mesoscale activity facilitates energy gain in a top predator. Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, 285: 20181101.

Schmitz, O.S., Miller, J.R.B., Trainor, A.M., Abrahms, B. 2017. Toward a community ecology of landscapes: predicting emergent multiple predator-prey interactions across geographic space. Ecology, 98(9): 2281-2292.

African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) stop to sniff a scent mark while traveling on a road. Photo Credit: Briana Abrahms

Understanding the drivers of large-scale animal movement

Understanding the drivers of ecological processes like migration and dispersal is a central goal in ecology and key for effective conservation planning. Research in our lab seeks to identify unifying drivers of large-scale animal movements across diverse systems, and elucidate the causes of variation in these strategies across individuals and species.

Relevant Publications:

Abrahms, B., Hazen, E.L., Aikens, E.O., Savoca, M., Goldbogen, J., Bograd, S.J., Jacox, M., Irvine, L.M., Palacios, D.M., and Mate, B.R. 2019. Memory and resource tracking drive blue whale migrations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(12): 5582-5587.

Abrahms, B., Seidel, D.P., Dougherty, E., Hazen, E.L., Bograd, S.J., Wilson, A.M., McNutt, J.W., Costa, D.P., Blake, S., Brashares, J.S. and Getz, W.M. 2017. Suite of simple metrics reveals common movement syndromes across vertebrate taxa. Movement Ecology, 5(12): 1-11.

Abrahms, B., Jordan, N.R., Golabek, K.A., McNutt, J.W., Wilson, A.M., and Brashares, J.S. 2015. Lessons from integrating behaviour and resource selection: activity-specific responses of African wild dogs to roads. Animal Conservation, 19(3): 247-255.

Predicted occurrence of blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) changes daily as ocean habitats shift over time. From: Abrahms et al. 2019 Diversity & Distributions

Applying spatial and behavioral ecology to inform wildlife management and conservation

Managing species living in dynamic environments requires an understanding of their space use and exposure to threats that can change rapidly in space and time. By considering animal behavior and movement, and by modeling species distributions and connectivity dynamically, we can improve our ability to manage and conserve highly mobile species.

Relevant Publications

Abrahms, B., Bograd, S.J., Becker, E., Jacox, M., Irvine, L.M., Palacios, D.M., Mate, B.R, and Hazen, E.L. 2019. Dynamic ensemble models to predict distributions and anthropogenic risk exposure for highly mobile species. Diversity and Distributions, 25(8): 1182-1193. *cover article*

Abrahms, B., Sawyer, S.C., Jordan, N.R., McNutt, J.W., Wilson, A.M., and Brashares, J.S. 2017. Does wildlife resource selection accurately inform corridor conservation? Journal of Applied Ecology, 54(2): 412-422. *cover article*

Management Products

Ship strikes along the US West Coast are the leading cause of mortality of the North Pacific's Endangered blue whale population. In collaboration with the Benioff Ocean Initiative, NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, we developed a dynamic ocean management tool (left) to allow managers and ship crews along the West Coast, as well as the public, to see where in the ocean blue whales are most likely to be based on daily habitat conditions.

Habitat fragmentation is one of the principal threats to the persistence of wide-ranging large carnivores across Africa. Working with the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, our research on identifying functional landscape connectivity in northern Botswana was incorporated into the Department's Wildlife Conservation Research Strategic Plan 2016-2020.

Header photo credits: Briana Abrahms, Craig Hayslip (blue whale)