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Yooper Wildlife Watch is an interdisciplinary research initiative that uses remote cameras and statistical modeling to examine wildlife spatial and temporal responses to seasonally diverse recreation activities (e.g., skiing, mountain biking, hunting) across a mosaic of public access lands at the rural-wildland interface in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This initiative brings together graduate students in Biology and  Postsecondary Science Education and undergraduates from all majors in the Principles of Ecology course (~200 students per year). As part of scheduled field-based activities in Principles of Ecology, undergraduates are trained in camera deployment and maintenance following eMammal guidelines and contribute to imagery analysis. Graduate students in Postsecondary Science Education develop inquiry-based curriculum for students to use in Principles of Ecology to test fundamental ecological hypotheses (e.g., resource partitioning, human shielding) using authentic ecological data the undergraduates helped generate. Graduate students in Biology use Yooper Wildlife Watch data in their graduate research to construct multi-species and multi-state occupancy models to evaluate how seasonally variable human recreation activities influence wildlife spatial and temporal activity patterns across the rural-wildland interface. The overarching goal of this project is to provide data that will empower landowners to make science-informed decisions to balance their economic needs with the resource needs of the wildlife that share their lands.



Terrestrial carnivores have suffered the largest range contractions of all species on Earth in the last two centuries due to human activity, the dominant cause of most contemporary environmental change. While protected areas now encompass 14.7% of Earth’s terrestrial surface and serve an important role in biodiversity conservation, most wildlife occur outside protected areas and are thus subject to varying degrees of human disturbance. The ‘human footprint (HFP)’, a global map that provides a striking visualization and index of the magnitude of human influence across Earth’s land surface provides a powerful tool to help inform our understanding of species’ distributions and abundances relative to human-induced landscape change. However, the profound impacts of various human activities on wildlife populations and communities extend beyond physical changes in Earth’s land surface indexed by the HFP. For example, actual human presence (AHP), which is less spatially and temporally predictable than the HFP, influences wildlife behavior by disrupting movement, forcing changes in diel activity patterns, and mediating predator-prey interactions. To better understand the relative importance of the HFP and AHP on carnivore habitat use and behavior, we are using camera traps to monitor both carnivore and human activity across the rural-wildland interface. We seek to discern whether HFP or AHP is better predictor of carnivore habitat use and behavior across the rural-wildland interface and what types of recreation have a greater impact on carnivore spatial and temporal activity patterns.

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Education-focused research provide overwhelming evidence that immersing undergraduates in authentic research, especially students from underrepresented minorities, results in greater retention of diverse students in the STEM fields and improves student self-confidence. With ~35% of NMU students self-identifying as first generation college students, < 10 self-identifying as non-Caucasian, and an active LBGTQIA+ and Allies community on campus, Yooper Wildlife Watch allow us to actively engage >200 students annually that represent the diversity of our global society in authentic ecological research. Undergraduates in Principles of Ecology begin this immersive experience the first week of each semester by diving into the primary literature to learn about camera traps as a powerful noninvasive tool that can generate vast amounts of data to help answer basic and applied questions in ecology. As part of scheduled field-based activities, undergraduates are trained in all aspects of camera deployment and maintenance following well-established guidelines (i.e., eMammal). Throughout the semester, undergraduates contribute to imagery analysis, data management (e.g., construct pivot tables, query data) and are taught how to conduct descriptive analyses for data visualization (e.g., histograms) and basic statistical analyses (e.g., t-test, chi-square test) for testing fundamental ecological hypotheses (e.g., resource partitioning, human shielding). Further, Yooper Wildlife Watch provides NMU undergraduates authentic research experience, giving them documentable field and analytical skills to enhance their competitive-edge as they apply for internships and jobs and/or prepare for graduate school.

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