Western Ecological Research Center (WERC)

Biological Threats Research Program

Biological threats to wildlife can come from diseases, parasites, or invasive species, and can cause sweeping changes across important ecosystems. WERC scientists lead studies that investigate the source and effects of biological threats to environments across California, Nevada, and Pacific islands. Our projects include informing the restoration of ecosystems, for example by investigating effects and control of invasive plant or animal species concurrent with understanding factors that enhance native species, or discerning the role of natural predators in complex food webs that can control parasites infections in wildlife and humans. Click on the projects below to learn more.

Filter Total Items: 14
Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Polar Bear Health and Disease Diagnostics

In 2012, scientists noticed that nearly a third of polar bears sampled in a study in Alaska were suffering from hair loss and poor health. Drs. Lizabeth Bowen and A. Keith Miles of WERC used new technology to track down and identify the factors responsible for driving disease in Alaskan polar bears.

Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Developing Physiological Diagnostics for the Desert Tortoise

The Mojave desert tortoise is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and faces threats from habitat loss, predators, and disease. Drs. Lizabeth Bowen and A. Keith Miles with WERC are designing new methods to determine the type and influence of stressors present in the environment for the tortoise and other wildlife.

Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Ecology of Infectious Diseases

The public is most familiar with parasites' role in spreading infectious diseases to people and domestic animals. In tropical developing countries, malaria, schistosomiasis, and other infectious diseases cause significant human suffering. While most related studies focus on treating patients, Dr. Kevin Lafferty is studying how ecology of the local environment affects transmission of infectious...

Contacts: Kevin Lafferty
Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Supporting Informed Responses to Sea-Level Rise

To facilitate communication and outreach of sea level rise research results and implications, Dr. Karen Thorne and members of USGS WERC are hosting in-person workshops along the Pacific coast at different sites in Washington, Oregon, and California.

Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Reptile Biodiversity in the Pacific Basin Islands

Dr. Robert Fisher and his colleagues have teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and multiple universities to conduct several types of studies that will address high priority issues related to reptiles in the Pacific Basin Islands. These studies will provide new information about species diversity, endemicity, biology and demography of reptile fauna and will lay the...

Contacts: Robert N Fisher
Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Process-based Approaches for Ecological Restoration of Degraded Drylands

Surface disturbances ranging from military training, recreation, energy exploration and development, and wildfires impact a large majority of federal lands in the western US, but the ecological and economic impacts are poorly understood. Explore this webpage to learn how Dr. Lesley DeFalco and her research team are currently evaluating and refining conventional approaches for post-fire...

Contacts: Lesley DeFalco
Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Wetlands

Wetlands provide numerous ecosystem services, but also can be sources of methylmercury production and export. Click the next tab to learn how WERC's Dr. Josh Ackerman is evaluating the ecological factors that drive contaminant bioaccumulation in wetland-dependent fish and wildlife.

Contacts: Josh T Ackerman
Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Detection, Attribution, and Interpretation of Forest Changes

Dr. Nathan Stephenson and colleagues seek to determine what changes are occurring in forests, why they are occurring, and what they mean. For example, they have documented a long-term, apparently climatically-induced increase of tree mortality rates in otherwise undisturbed old forests across the western U.S., implying that these forests could become net sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide...

Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Desert Tortoise Ecology, Health, Habitat, and Conservation Biology

The desert tortoise is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. USGS WERC scientists, along with project partners have been conducting long-term analyses on how changes in the southwestern deserts of the United States can affect desert tortoise populations. Dr. Todd Esque and his team are investigating how habitat disturbances and restoration projects influence tortoise...

Contacts: Todd Esque
Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Contaminants in Waterbirds and Effects on Avian Reproduction

California’s Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Estuary have a long history of mercury contamination from past mercury mining and gold extraction. Waterbirds are particularly susceptible to mercury because of their use of wetland habitats where methylmercury (the most toxic and biologically available form) is produced and relatively low methylmercury exposure can reduce reproductive success...

Contacts: Josh T Ackerman
Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

California Sea Otter Stranding Network

The California Sea Otter Stranding Network is part of the USGS effort to monitor southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) and provide data to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. WERC's sea otter team works with multiple institutions and partners to report, recover, and examine stranded sea otters. In addition, instructions on how to report a stranded sea otter are included in this webpage...

Date published: October 30, 2017
Status: Active

Bat Research in California

The primary goal of this bat research program is to develop projects that increase our understanding of basic ecology and natural history of western bat species, while simultaneously providing needed data to inform conservation measures and management decisions in the West. Dr. Brian Halstead, together with Gabriel Reyes, studies the habitat and resource selection, movement ecology, demography...

Contacts: Brian Halstead