Ecological Solutions and Evidence Prize 2020: early career researcher winner announced

We’re excited to announce Christina Service as the winner of the inaugural Ecological Solutions and Evidence Prize, celebrating the best Research Article in the journal by an author at the start of their career.

Christina Service_200x200

Winner: Christina Service

Research: Spatial patterns and rarity of the white‐phased ‘Spirit bear’ allele reveal gaps in habitat protection

About the research

While the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is a species of least concern, a phenotypic variant of the subspecies, Ursus americanus kermodei, is not only the thing of legend, but has a very restricted geographical distribution. The ‘spirit bear’ is a completely white bear, which is not albino, and is cultural important to indigenous populations that inhabit coastal British Columbia , Canada. With only about 400 spirit bears believed to exist and questions about how this white colour is maintained genetically, it is crucially important to understand their population and degree of protection from resource extraction and trophy hunting.

In this study, Christina Service and colleagues use data from Indigenous-led research in the territories of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Gitga’at First Nations to identify that the allele responsible for spirit bears is up to 50% rarer than previously estimated. Further, they indicate that geographic hotspots, where the spirit bear allele was especially prominent, lack adequate protection from resource extraction such as industrial logging. The research provides new insight into our understanding of this rare polymorph and provides an opportunity for further collaboration with Indigenous Nations in the area to grow the evidence-base and attend to gaps in conservation planning.

The journal’s Editors were impressed with the authors’ incorporation of, and collaboration with, indigenous knowledge and people to further their understanding of a culturally important species. Editor-in-Chief, Marc Cadotte, also highlighted the authors’ fantastic use of multiple techniques, describing the study as a superb example of combining observational, genetic and spatial information to provide unparalleled information for species conservation.

About the winner

Christina grew up in coastal British Columbia, where the research was conducted, and pursued a career in applied ecology to help inform stewardship of the landscapes she cared about, as well as having the opportunity to spend time in these places. The prize-winning research was part of her PhD –  which she successfully defended in 2019 – and her research team is continuing to build upon this work to produce population estimates for spirit bears within the broader black bear population. This information, combined with the research in ESE, will be used for long-term monitoring of spirit bear populations in coastal British Columbia.

Find the winning article: “Spatial patterns and rarity of the white‐phased ‘Spirit bear’ allele reveal gaps in habitat protection”, as well as the shortlisted papers for the 2020 Ecological Solutions and Evidence Prize in this virtual issue.

Christina’s blog post about the research can also be found here.

We will be naming our early career researcher and practitioner prizes in honour of ecologists who have made a significant contribution to applied ecology and practice. If you have any suggestions for award names, please let us know using our form.

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