As a former Earthwatch volunteer, how did your experience influence your desire to become a researcher?
My first Earthwatch expedition focused on carnivores. In fact, I participated in my first ocelot capture on that expedition. That experience was certainly life affirming in the sense that I had always known that being a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist is what I wanted to do. The impact of this first Eartwatch experience left indelible impressions on me regarding what research of this nature was like, much of what I’d hoped. In reality, is very difficult to qualify something like this in words.
How does citizen science support your research?
I believe that for someone who isn’t doing this research or hasn’t previously been exposed to it, these expeditions have the potential to be life-changing. It’s possible to take away certain insights from an experience like this that can forever influence your thoughts and habits thereafter. This can then translate into changes and differences in the way these experiences are shared, and the values one adopts and encourages in others.
What do you enjoy about working with ocelots?
Carnivores are very interesting from a scientific perspective – their evolution, competition between them and relationships between predators and prey, and the way they can significantly impact ecosystems. I’m very interested in taxonomic carnivores as a systematic group, especially mid-level carnivores like ocelots that are ecologically influenced from both above and below – “top-down” and “bottom-up” ecological effects. In Trinidad, there you have the ocelot in a very different context. What was traditionally a carnivore that had evolved as a mesopredator, i.e, not the top terrestrial predator but a mid-level predator, here it now suddenly is the largest terrestrial carnivore. Being able to do the research we have proposed on Trinidad can further illuminate new aspects of the ocelots’ ecology – by allowing us to investigate their ecological relationships in a unique evolutionary context. Concepts like this date back to my earliest interests in carnivores, their evolutionary history, and what are inspired me to focus on carnivores in the first place.