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Katherine Zeller

Katherine Zeller
Research Biologist
Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute
790 East Beckwith Avenue
Missoula, MT 59801-4421
United States
Current Research
My research integrates the fields of landscape ecology, wildlife biology, genetics, and conservation biology to understand wildlife population dynamics, habitat relationships, and movement. I am modeling multi-scale habitat suitability for wildlife species over large areas to understand the importance of those habitats in a larger geographic context, and the location of those habitats relative to conserved lands. I am also modeling connectivity for wildlife species among conserved lands and other areas of suitable habitat to identify movement routes and wildlife corridors. To determine how demographically connected populations are and to identify source-sink population dynamics, I also use genetic data in my research. Lastly, I am using scenario modeling to determine the effects of future climate and land use change on wildlife habitats and corridors. All my research is conducted in an applied context and results from my research can be used by managers to aid in complex land use and resource use decisions.
Past Research
Modeling wildlife movement: I developed a methodology to model animal movement from GPS collar data that incorporates multiple spatial scales. These multi-scale movement models allow for the appropriate scale of selection for a landscape feature to be identified and allow for a deeper understand of how wildlife respond to features as they move about the landscape. I have used this method to model multi-scale movement for mountain lions, bobcat, mule deer, black bear, and other species. 

Large landscape conservation networks:
I modeled connectivity among jaguar populations across their geographic distribution from Mexico to Argentina and designed a rapid assessment protocol to validate these corridors in the field. This has resulted in the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, the only conservation initiative in the world that focuses on the health of jaguars across their entire geographic range. As part of this work, I also assisted in determining how well this conservation network functioned as an umbrella for other species and how threatened it is by fragmentation and deforestation.

Landscape genetics: I have used the genetics of wildlife to determine which landscape features facilitate or impede the movement of individuals and their genes across the landscape and to determine the demographic connections among populations. 

Road ecology: Roads pose serious threats to the safety of wildlife -- and wildlife on roads are a human safety issue. I have used movement and genetic data to identify road crossing hotspots for large mammals. These hotspots can be used to site road mitigation measures. I have also explored the different methods used to identify crossing hotspots to assess their efficacy at capturing empirical crossing locations.
Research Interest
I am interested in how wildlife respond to natural and human landscape features and how our land and resource use decisions affect wildlife populations. Because wildlife do not observe protected area boundaries and because they often need larger areas than current protected areas provide, I am interested in identifying and maintaining connectivity among conserved lands and important habitat patches. By connecting areas, habitats and populations are less isolated from one another and the overall area available to a species is effectively increased. I am also interested in how these connections affect the health of wildlife populations. Do they provide increased opportunities for genetic exchange? Do they increase the genetic viability of populations? Are some populations acting as sources that maintain the overall metapopulation? Answers to these questions can help target management to important habitat patches and corridors. I am interested in exploring these questions in a multi-species context to determine areas that may be important to multiple species and which areas are species-specific.
Why This Research Is Important
Protected areas comprise less than 15% of the land area of the planet and the remaining natural areas are becoming increasingly fragmented due to deforestation, agricultural expansion, and development. Fragmentation and loss of natural areas are the main drivers of biodiversity loss so strategies that counteract this loss are key to ecosystem health. Identifying and maintaining connectivity among protected areas and habitat patches is one strategy to maintain networks of natural areas. In fact, connectivity has been referred to as 'Nature's Safety Net'. Identifying important habitat patches and areas of connectivity for wildlife that are viable today and where these areas might be located in the future will aid in natural resource use decision-making and management.
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Ph.D., Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, 2016
  • University of Montana, M.S., Environmental Studies, 2003
  • Tufts University, B.S., Biology, 1997
Professional Experience
  • Postdoctoral Researcher,  Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit,  2017 - 2020
  • Postdoctoral Researcher,  San Diego State University,  2016 - 2017
  • Research Coordinator, Landscape Analysis Lab,  Panthera,  2008 - 2011
  • Environmental Consultant,  Wildlife Conservation Society,  2004 - 2011
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Citations of Non-Forest Service Publications
  • Bosco, L., S.A. Cushman, H.Y. Wan, K.A. Zeller, R. Arlettaz, A. Jacot. 2020. Fragmentation effects on woodlark habitat selection depend on habitat amount and spatial scale. Animal Conservation.

  • Zeller, K.A., D.W. Wattles, L. Conlee, S. DeStefano. 2019. American black bears (Ursus americanus) alter movements in response to anthropogenic features with time of day and season. Movement Ecology.

  • Zeller, K.A., D.W. Wattles, S. DeStefano. 2018. Predicting moose-vehicle collisions in Massachusetts, USA: Incorporating road crossing data into collision risk models. Environmental Management 62: 518-528.

  • Wattles, D.W., K.A. Zeller, S. DeStefano. 2018. Range expansion in unfavorable environments through behavioral adaptation to microclimates: moose (Alces americanus) as the model. Mammalian Biology.

  • Jędrzejewski, W., H.S. Robinson, M. Abarca, K.A. Zeller, G. Velasquez, E. Paemelaere, J.F. Goldberg, E. Payan, R. Hoogesteijn, E.O. Boede, K. Schmidt, M. Lampo, A.L. Viloria, R. Carreño, N. Robinnson, P.M. Lukacs, J.J. Nowak, R. Salom-Pérez, F. Castañeda, V. Boron, H. Quigley. 2018. Estimating large carnivore populations at global scale based on spatial predictions of density and distribution – application to the jaguar (Panthera onca). PLoS ONE 13(3): e0194719.

  • Wattles, D.W., K.A. Zeller, S. DeStefano. 2018. Response of moose to a high-density road network. Journal of Wildlife Management 82: 929-939.

  • Petracca, L., J. Frair, J. Cohen, A.P. Calderón, J. Carazo-Salazar, F. Castañeda, D. Corrales-Gutiérrez, R. Foster, B. Harmsen, S. Hernández-Potosme, L. Herrera, M. Olmos, S. Pereira, H. Robinson, N. Robinson, R. Salom-Pérez, Y. Urbina, K.A. Zeller, H. Quigley. 2018. Robust inference on large-scale species habitat use using interview data: The status of jaguars outside protected areas in Central America. Journal of Applied Ecology 55: 723-734.

  • Zeller, K.A., T.W. Vickers, H.B. Ernest, W.M. Boyce. 2017. Multi-level, multi-scale resource selection functions and resistance surfaces for conservation planning: pumas as a case study. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0179570.

  • Olsoy, P.J., K.A. Zeller, J.A. Hicke, H.B. Quigley, A.R. Rabinowitz, D.H. Thornton. 2016. Quantifying the effects of deforestation and fragmentation on a range-wide conservation plan for jaguars. Biological Conservation 203: 8-16.

  • McGarigal, K., K.A. Zeller, S.A. Cushman. 2016. Multi-scale habitat selection modeling:  Introduction to the special issue. Landscape Ecology 31: 1157-1160.