Today sees the announcement of this year’s winners of the BES Early Career Researcher Awards. Journal of Applied Ecology awards the Southwood Prize each year to the best paper in the Journal by an early career author at the start of their career.
Dustin Ranglack won last year’s Southwood Prize for his paper ‘Competition on the range: science vs. perception in a bison–cattle conflict in the western USA’ which he completed during his PhD studies. He is currently an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska – Kearney, focusing on range and wildlife management. His research focuses mainly on large mammal ecology, conservation, and management.
In this Q&A Dustin talks about his research and what he has been doing since he won the 2015 prize.
What does your Southwood Prize-winning paper show?
Our research focused on a bison–cattle conflict on a shared rangeland in southern Utah. Local cattle ranchers felt like bison were a major competitor for forage resources, particularly in an area that was designated for winter use by cattle, but used extensively during the summer by bison. We surveyed local rancher perceptions of the conflict, asking them to rate bison, mule deer, and rabbits as high, medium, or low level competitors with cattle. All identified bison as medium or high level competitors, though rabbits were consistently rated a low level competitor. We also asked if they felt that predator control was needed in the area, to which they all agreed that it was. To compare these perceptions to reality, we constructed a series of grazing exclosures at 20 sites in the conflict area. One exclosure would exclude bison and cattle, while allowing rabbits to access the area, while a second would exclude rabbits as well. We found that rabbit impacts on the forage were more than 2x those of bison, indicating that cattle face a far greater competitive threat from rabbits than bison. The mismatch between perceptions and reality highlight the need for science-based research, even when the perceptions are those of long-term resource users. These results also indicate that the area may be experiencing a trophic cascade as the result of long-term predator control in the area.
Journal of Applied Ecology papers must have clear potential for impact on the management of the environment. Have you seen any changes in the management of the different species in the Henry Mountains since your research?
I have spoken with several ranchers and biologists in the area since the research has been completed. To my knowledge it has yet to directly change the management of bison, cattle, coyotes, and rabbits in the area, but all parties have a more complete understanding of the intricacies of the ecological interactions in the area and are working toward a solution that will allow for continued coexistence of bison and cattle in the area.
What have you been working on since completing this research?
Since completing this research I completed a post-doctoral research associate post at Montana State University studying the management of elk and elk habitat in Montana. This particularly focused on elk resource selection during the summer and fall seasons in relation to nutrition, roads, and hunting. I am currently an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska – Kearney, where I am continuing to research bison and elk, and expanding my research to focus on the impacts of habitat fragmentation on a variety of wildlife species in an agriculturally dominated system.
Do you think winning the Southwood prize has affected the impact of your work?
Winning the Southwood prize has absolutely affected the coverage and impact of my work! While it had already generated significant coverage locally (e.g. Study: Bison don’t compete much with cattle for grass), several additional articles were written about the work after the prize had been announced (e.g. UNK’s Ranglack earns prestigious Southwood Prize for bison research), and I was able to present at the BES meeting as a result. That was a unique and important opportunity for me to be able to present to an international audience who otherwise would not have been exposed to my research.
Have any other opportunities arisen because of winning the prize?
I strongly believe that winning the prize helped me get my current position and lends a large degree of credibility to my other work and grant proposals.
How did you find the opportunity to attend and present at the BES annual meeting?
Attending the BES annual meeting in Liverpool was excellent! It was so nice to meet researchers from all over the world and develop new friendships and potential collaborations that otherwise would not exist. I particularly enjoyed speaking to the early career group on transitioning from PhD to post-doc and would welcome future opportunities to work with and mentor early career ecologists.
What are your plans for the future?
As I am a new faculty member at the University of Nebraska – Kearney, my future plans focus mostly on developing my own research program. I am building collaborations with our state wildlife management agency, as applied research that directly impacts management is important to me. One of my main focal areas moving forward will be researching the impacts of habitat fragmentation on human–wildlife conflict and wildlife movements in an agricultural-dominated system.