Current Research Initiatives

Carrying Capacity Modeling

This is a collaborative project with Dr. Tom Hanley (US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Experiment Station, Juneau, AK) and Dr. Kenrick Mock (Department of Mathematics and Computer Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage). We are developing web-based applications for the determination of carrying capacity of habitats to support large herbivores, based on nutritional needs of the animals, and the availability and nutritional quality of their foods. To date, we have completed a web-based model for determination of carrying capacity for Sitka Black-tailed Deer in Alaska (FRESH-DEER), and are currently working on an equivalent model for moose in Alaska.

Nutritional Evaluation of Plants for Herbivores

The world is green because plants have evolved sophisticated mechanisms to defeat their enemies – the herbivores. These include physical mechanisms (such as thorns and spines), but the most effective defenses are chemical in nature. My aim is to develop modern and efficient methods of measuring the nutritional properties of plants to support herbivores, and to simultaneously determine their anti-nutritional or toxic properties to herbivores. Currently, my most recent graduate student, Scott McArt,, has succeeded in developing a rapid and efficient method of determining the protein-binding properties of tannins in plant tissues, and relating these assays to the digestibility of protein in herbivores such as deer and moose. In collaboration with Dr. Marc Perry (Department of Chemistry, University of Alaska Anchorage), I am currently investigating the application of mid-infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to understanding and predicting the digestibility and digestion kinetics of forages by moose (Alces alces).

The Efficiency of Nitrogen Use by Moose

In collaboration with Dr. Bill Collins (Alaska Department of Fish and Game), we are currently investigating the efficiency of moose to digest and recycle N from plants, particularly native browses that are defended by high concentrations of tannins. We have been conducting complete balance trials on tame moose each winter for the past two years, and this work will continue over the next year or so as part of a larger project to determine the potential nutritional limitations of moose in the Nelchina Basin of Alaska. See Photos.

The Role of N and Tannins in the Nutritional Ecology of Moose in Alaska

This project focuses principally on moose and moose habitats in south-central Alaska, and specifically on the role that N may play in determining the productivity of moose in boreal ecosystems. This study is a collaboration between Dr. Bill Collins (Alaska Department of Fish and Game), Dr. Tom Hanley (US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Experiment Station), Dr. Grant Harris (US Forest Service, Chugach National Forest), Dr. John Kennish (Department of Chemistry, UAA), Dr. Marc Perry (Department of Chemistry, UAA), and Dr. Kenrick Mock (Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, UAA). We are investigating a variety of parameters on several moose ranges throughout south-central Alaska, including the diets of moose, the nutritional quality (i.e., digestible energy and protein) of the major moose foods on each range, the protein-binding capacities of the foods, and the availability of the foods to moose. Our goals are to predict nutritional status and potential carrying capacities of the ranges. Currently, we are focusing our investigations in the Nelchina Basin, near Glennallen, Alaska, and the Placer River Valley, near Anchorage. See Photos.

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