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Katherine Zeller

Setting a camera trap

Research Biologist

Address: 
790 East Beckwith Avenue
Missoula, MT 59801-4421
Phone: 
406-542-4197
Contact Katherine Zeller

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.

Research Interests

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.

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.

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.

Education

  • 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 to 2020

    Postdoctoral Researcher, San Diego State University
    2016 to 2017

    Research Coordinator, Landscape Analysis Lab, Panthera
    2008 to 2011

    Environmental Consultant, Wildlife Conservation Society
    2004 to 2011

    Featured Publications

    Publications

    Parks, Sean A.; Holsinger, Lisa M.; Littlefield, Caitlin E.; Dobrowski, Solomon Z.; Zeller, Katherine; Abatzoglou, John T.; Besancon, Charles; Nordgren, Bryce L.; Lawler, Joshua J., 2022. Efficacy of the global protected area network is threatened by disappearing climates and potential transboundary range shifts
    Jennings, Megan K.; Zeller, Katherine; Lewison, Rebecca L., 2021. Dynamic Landscape Connectivity Special Issue Editorial
    Zeller, Katherine; Schroeder, Cody A.; Wan, Ho Yi; Collins, Gail; Denryter, Kristin; Jakes, Andrew F.; Cushman, Samuel A., 2021. Forecasting habitat and connectivity for pronghorn across the Great Basin ecoregion
    Zeller, Katherine; Cushman, Samuel A.; Van Lanen, Nicholas J.; Boone, John D.; Ammon, Elisabeth, 2021. Targeting conifer removal to create an even playing field for birds in the Great Basin
    Zeller, Katherine; Wattles, David W.; Bauder, Javan M.; DeStefano, Stephen, 2020. Forecasting seasonal habitat connectivity in a developing landscape
    Teitelbaum, Claire S.; Siren, Alexej P. K.; Coffel, Ethan; Foster, Jane R.; Frair, Jacqueline L.; Hinton, Joseph W.; Horton, Radley M.; Kramer, David W.; Lesk, Corey; Raymond, Colin; Wattles, David W.; Zeller, Katherine; Morelli, Toni Lyn, 2020. Habitat use as indicator of adaptive capacity to climate change
    Jennings, Megan K.; Zeller, Katherine; Lewison, Rebecca L., 2020. Supporting adaptive connectivity in dynamic landscapes
    Zeller, Katherine; Lewsion, Rebecca; Fletcher, Robert J. Jr.; Tulbure, Mirela G.; Jennings, Megan K., 2020. Understanding the importance of dynamic landscape connectivity
    Zeller, Katherine; McGarigal, Kevin; Beier, Paul; Cushman, Samuel A.; Vickers, T. Winston; Boyce, Walter M., 2014. Sensitivity of landscape resistance estimates based on point selection functions to scale and behavioral state: Pumas as a case study
    Cushman, Samuel A.; McRae, Brad; Adriaensen, Frank; Beier, Paul; Shirley, Mark; Zeller, Katherine, 2013. Biological corridors and connectivity [Chapter 21]
    Border fence running through a forested area
    Protected areas serve as an essential tool for conserving biodiversity. However, their ability to protect currently extant organisms is challenged as species shift their ranges in response to a warming climate. This raises the question as to whether species currently resident in protected areas will find other protected areas with similar future climate conditions to which to move.
    A pronghorn
    Identifying and enhancing habitat for large ungulates in the Great Basin has become an increased priority. To aid in this effort, we mapped current and future habitat and corridor areas for pronghorn across this region. 
    Five maps of the Great Basin ecoregion
    To restore sagebrush habitat in the Great Basin, managers are conducting large-scale conifer removal efforts. Such large-scale habitat modification may result in unintended ecological trade-offs for wildlife. We investigated these tradeoffs for two sagebrush associated species and three conifer associated species of conservation concern in the Great Basin. 
    Colorful map of AZ and NM
    RMRS scientist Samuel Cushman has led the development and application of approaches to optimize multi-scale wildlife habitat relationships. We applied these methods to several American marten datasets and found very strong scale dependence of habitat relationships. We further explored how these methods improve understanding of brown bear habitat selection in Spain and understand niche partitioning of two sympatric marten species.
    Figure showing intra-annual (e.g. seasons), intermittent (e.g. fire), and interannual (e.g. climate change) dynamics in ungulate migration.
    Connectivity is becoming a key conservation strategy to maintain biodiversity given widespread habitat loss, land-use change, and fragmentation. Because landscapes are inherently dynamic, incorporating dynamic process into connectivity models can offer a better understanding of ecological processes and more accurate spatial outputs. The information provided by dynamic connectivity models can enhance the longevity and success of management and planning efforts.