Steury Lab

Wildlife ecology research at Auburn University


Courses Research People Publications Join the lab

My lab is broadly interested in the population ecology, species interactions, and behavior of wildlife, especially mammalian predators and their prey. We are particularly interested in applying knowledge learned in the above areas to better conserve and restore species.


Current Lab Projects

Black bear reproductive ecology in Alabama

The black bear was once common in Alabama. In fact, the range distributions of three separate subspecies of black bears (the Florida subspecies, Louisiana subspecies, and the American subspecies) once met in this state. Today, there are probably fewer than 500 individuals in Alabama, all concentrated in two small populations: a remnant population of the Florida subspecies of black bears north of Mobile (with maybe 200 breeding bears), and a newly re-established population of the American subspecies in northeast Alabama (with maybe 40 breeding bears). My lab just completed a multi-year state-wide study attempting to understand some very basic, but important information about black bears in Alabama, including: how many there are, where they are, what habitats they use, the degree of inbreeding in the population, and connectivity and gene flow between populations both within the state and with other, surrounding states (see Draper et al. 2017). From that study, one concern that developed was why the Mobile population isn't growing more. Anecdotal evidence suggests that bears cubs aren't making it to adulthood and recruiting into the population. Thus, graduate student Hannah Leeper and research assistant Chris Seals are radio-collaring female bears, visiting dens over-winter, and radio-collaring cubs to monitor survival to their first fall. Due to concerns about insufficient denning structure, we are also putting supplemental dens in areas used by bears to see if such structures will be used and how they will influence cub survival. 


The evolution of scatterhoarding

If you ask most people how squirrels survival over winter, they will tell you that squirrels bury nuts in the fall to eat throughout the winter when food isn't readily available, a process called 'scatterhoarding'. Yet the evidence for the importance of such behavior and how it evolved in animals like squirrels is limited. Thus, Ph.D. student (co-advised with Steve Dobson) is exploring the costs, benefits, and other details about this important behavior in order to understand it's evolution and importance to squirrel populations.


Do deer fawns choose hiding spots to mask their scent

It's commonly believed that deer fawns don't have a smell in order to avoid detection by scenting predators. Of course, that simply is not true. Graduate student Tanner Hough is starting an experiment using the EcoDogs to see if fawns choose hiding spots that mask their scent relative to random sites in the environment. As animals that primarily use sight, we assume that most prey hide in places that provide visual cover. But there are many predators (like coyotes) that use smell to hunt. The study has important implications for predator-prey theory.


Do Mennonites affect habitat use of jaguars

Jaguars are an important top predator throughout much of central and south America where they occur. Yet humans can drastically affect the distribution and habitat use of these large cats through habitat destruction and of course persecution in the form of hunting. Undergraduate student Cullen Anderson, working the Marcella Kelly's lab at Virginia Tech, is testing whether humans - specifically Mennonites - influence where jaguars are found in Belize.


For information on past projects, see the list of publications




Black-tailed prairie dog scanning for predators


Hunter McDonald with Jaguar

Graduate student Hunter McDonald with a Jaguar in Paraguay



Hexacopter used to search for hard-to-find wildlife


Black bear with cubs

Mama black bear with cubs caught on game camera


Radio-tagged leveret (predators love these things)



E-mail: 3301 Forestry and Wildlife Building, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849 Phone: 334.844.9253
Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Todd Steury 2008