I am a behavioural ecologist interested in the evolutionary underpinnings of the social behaviour of large carnivores, particularly bears. This includes both inter- and intra-sexual selection within mating systems and how this shapes population dynamics. I am especially interested in the chemical signalling (scent communication) behaviour of bears and studying the strategies they use to communicate. I specialise in the use of non-invasive observational research techniques to collect data on wild populations.
I grew up in the north west of England, with a keen interest in wildlife from a young age. This led me to studying Animal Conservation Science for my bachelors (hons.) degree at the University of Central Lancashire’s Cumbria campus, bordering the Lake District National Park. After completing my undergraduate degree I was employed as a research assistant at the University of Cumbria, where I worked on multiple field and lab-based projects within the Centre for Wildlife Conservation. During this time I began to develop ideas for a PhD project with my supervisors Prof Owen Nevin and Dr Andrew Ramsey. I was awarded a studentship from the University of Cumbria and began a PhD in 2009, affiliated through Lancaster University. At this time, my third supervisor Prof Frank Rosell joined the project from Telemark University College, Norway. For the next three years I studied the scent communication behaviour of brown bears in Knight Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. This is a field site where my lead supervisor (Owen Nevin) also conducted his PhD research and is home to one of the longest-studied populations of brown bears in North America. I successfully defended and completed my doctoral research in December 2012, earning a PhD in Conservation Biology. I then went onto work as a bear viewing guide with Knight Inlet Lodge while conducting additional field work. In 2015, I began a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cumbria, funded by Mitacs Canada and Knight Inlet Lodge.
As well as studying brown bears in Knight Inlet, I have also camera trapped Himalayan brown bears in Kazakhstan, established a research project on tigers in Madhya Pradesh, India, conducted a field study on western red colobus monkeys in The Gambia and completed work experience at a game reserve in Limpopo Province, South Africa. This experience broadened my field skills and developed my knowledge and appreciation for issues relating to coexistence between people and wildlife.
In 2015, I founded the Brown Bear Research Network (BBRN), a non-profit organisation with an aim to generate more funding for research on grizzly bears in BC. I serve as the Executive Director of BBRN and am responsible for overseeing all operations including, managing budgets, supervising volunteers, building partnerships with stakeholders, marketing and social media, and grant writing. I also serve as a BBRN scientist.