KCRL’s Mauricio Vela-Vargas presents research on Andean bears at International Congress for Conservation Biology


Mauricio with his poster at ICCB

KCRL’s Mauricio Vela-Vargas and Dr. K attended the International Congress of Conservation Biology, July 23-27 of 2017, in Cartagena (Colombia).  At this conference, Vela-Vargas, a PhD Fulbright scholar at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, presented part of his dissertation work on Andean bear-human conflicts in the eastern part of the bear’s range of Colombia. In addition to his work at the University of Arizona, Mauricio presented part of his work with Proyecto de Conservación de Aguas y Tierras (ProCAT Colombia), an NGO that focuses on landscape management in oil production areas within the Colombian llanos.

Following the Congress, Mauricio, Dr. K, and colleagues from ProCAT visited Andean bear study areas within Chingaza National Natural Park.


Fantastic views of Chingaza National Natural Park

KCRL represented at the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Austin, Texas

KCRL students Brian Blais and Colin Brocka traveled across chile country [Fig. 1]


Fig. 1 – a big chile

to attend the annual Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH “Jimmy”) in Austin, Texas (July 12 – 16, 2017),  (http://conferences.k-state.edu/JMIH-Austin-2017/) [Fig. 2]. This internationally recognized meeting brings together researchers, managers, artists, naturalists, and retailers from all biological walks of life who study and/or work with herpetological and ichthyological models. Some symposia within the meeting were dedicated towards


Fig. 2 – the “Jimmy” commences

amphibian and reptile conservation. Both Brian and Colin presented components of their research during the “lightning talks,” 5-minute oral sessions designed to advertise works in-progress and/or call outs for collaborators/advice. Brian talked about preliminary successes with noninvasive techniques for radio telemetry with the threatened narrow-headed gartersnake as well as calling out for collaborators in eDNA metabarcoding for monitoring biodiversity in lotic systems [Fig 3].


Fig. 3 – Brian’s lightning talk

Colin talked about the radio-telemetry and habitat measurement techniques he is using to investigate movement patterns and habitat selection in the endangered Sonoran tiger salamander.[Fig 4]. Brian also presented a poster highlighting noninvasive tools/techniques for monitoring herpetofauna in a conservation light.

Both Brian and Colin were exposed to many great talks and social opportunities with their peers, generating new connections and career opportunities. Brian and Colin are extremely grateful for funding support to attend JMIH by University of Arizona’s Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) travel grants and the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR) Student Travel Grant.


Fig. 4 – Colin’s lightning talk

Feeling the friendly pressures of being the “herp researchers” in an ever impressive lab of mammalian majority, Brian and Colin got a chance to visit the famed Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, where North America’s largest urban colony of bats (Mexican free-tailed bats Tadarida brasiliensis) roosts. The sunset emergence of roughly 1.5 million chiropterans was so immensely impressive, that Brian and Colin re-visited the phenomenon a second time in as many days


Fig. 5 – Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from Congress Ave. bridge, Austin, TX

[Fig. 5]. The sight was so bewildering that they both ignored the pungent smell of guano and the occasional splatter of bat pee. Finally, as a way to pay homage for their fearless advisor, Dr. K., Brian and Colin stopped by Ms. Pearl [Fig. 6 & 7], the world’s largest squirrel statue just outside Austin, TX .


Fig. 6 – Miss Pearl, the giant statue


Fig. 7 – a giant squirrel casts a large shadow

What do we know about fire and Mt. Graham red squirrels?

MGRS by Melissa Merrick

Photo by Melissa J. Merrick

As the Frye Fire continues to expand in the Pinalenos, one might wonder how federally endangered Mt. Graham red squirrels (MGRS) might respond to such a challenge.  Fire has long been a major factor shaping the forests of Mt. Graham and thus the habitat and ecology of the mountain’s red squirrels.  The Nuttall Complex Fire in 2004 burned more than 12,000 ha of forest, much of it in Mt. Graham red squirrel habitat.  At that time, we were conducting regular counts of squirrel abundance and following individuals fitted with radiocollars.  Red squirrels clearly were initially negatively impacted by fire; about 35% perished in the fire but many individuals were able to survive and were found alive in underground burrows soon after the fire or moved more than 1 km and were found outside of the burn perimeter.  Because fires often burn in a patchy fashion, the impacts of fire after the direct passing of the fire are variable.  MGRS continue to avoid areas of high or moderate burn for many years after the fire; however, low levels of burn damage actually seemed to have some positive impacts as indicated by smaller daily ranging behavior of individuals and continued persistence of animals in such burned locations.  Introduced Abert’s squirrels, a non-native competitor on Mt. Graham, respond more positively to fire and pose a continued threat.  Although the Frye Fire is still raging and each fire is different, MGRS have been through massive fires in the past.  Post-fire management of MGRS and the forest will be critical to persistence.  One thing that past fires, 7,000-10,000 years of tenacious residence by squirrels and our research over the last 17 years  on Mt. Graham tell us, MGRS are survivors and don’t give up easily!

Here are links to papers that detail the findings mentioned above:

Blount, S.J., J.L. Koprowski. 2012. Small mammal response to post-fire conditions: case of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel. Southwestern Naturalist. 57:8-15. https://www.ag.arizona.edu/research/redsquirrel/res_pdf/BlountandKoprowski2011MGRSMyfirstpublication.pdf

Gwinn, R. N. and J. L. Koprowski. 2017. Differential response to fire by an introduced and an endemic species complicates endangered species conservation. Hystrix doi:10.4404/hystrix-27.2-11447:1-7.https://www.ag.arizona.edu/research/redsquirrel/res_pdf/Gwinn&Koprowski2017Hystrix_Fire_ABSQ.pdf

Koprowski, J. L., K. M. Leonard, C. A. Zugmeyer, and J. L. Jolley. 2006. Direct effects of fire on endangered Mount Graham red squirrels. The Southwestern Naturalist 51(1): 59-63. https://www.ag.arizona.edu/research/redsquirrel/res_pdf/MGRS%20Publications/SWN%20Koprowski%20et%20al.%20Fire%20and%20MGRS%20Mar%2006.pdf

Leonard, K. M. and J. L. Koprowski. 2009. Effects of fire on endangered Mt. Graham red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis): responses of individuals with known fates. Southwestern Naturalist 55:217-224. https://www.ag.arizona.edu/research/redsquirrel/res_pdf/Leonard&Koprowski2010SWNat_EffectsofFireonIndivMGRS.pdf

Below, please find a number of helpful links with more detail on MGRS and fire:

For updates on the Frye Fire:


For information on the Mt. Graham red squirrels and our research:


For information on fires in the recent past on Mt. Graham:


For a copy of the fire history of Mt. Graham through the late 1900s, see Grissino-Mayer et al.s 1994 paper:


Congrats to KCRL PhD student Shambhu Paudel, recipient of the 2017 Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Bharathi Viswanathan award

KCRL PhD student and Russell E. Train WWF Fellow Shambhu Paudel has been awarded the 2017 WDC BHARATHI VISWANATHAN AWARD!  The Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Bharathi Viswanathan award is given for innovative and non-invasive research, showcasing non-invasive research methodologies, that lead to the development of innovative and non-invasive approaches towards studying whales and dolphins.

Shambhu is incorporating photo identification and other non-invasive methods to study ganges river dolphin population density and ecology in Nepal.

Congrats Shambu!


KCRL’s Colin Brocka, Brian Blais, and Mauricio Vela-Vargas receive GPSC travel grants

Congrats to KCRL PhD students Mauricio Vela-Vargas and Brian Blais, and Master’s student Colin Brocka, recipients of 2017 University of Arizona Graduate Student and Professional Student Council travel grants to attend the International Congress for Conservation Biology  in Cartagena Colombia (Mauricio) and the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Austin, Texas (Brian, Colin).  GPSC travel grants provide excellent graduate student support for students to present research and network with key scientific societies.

Way to go Mauricio, Colin, & Brian!