Meet the Conservation Ecologist

by | Jan 8, 2024 | Animal Science, Environment, Resident Expert

Justine Smith (Courtesy photo)

Wildlife conservation takes into account the complex web of interactions animals have with the environment, as factors like human presence, climate change, and disease can greatly impact preservation. Justine Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, studies these connections to make informed decisions for population and habitat restoration. “I’m drawn to incorporate more and more complexity so that we can better conserve species that are dealing with the many things we throw at them,” Smith said.

At UC Davis, Smith works with other researchers to analyze development and climate change to preserve animal movement around the state. One of her primary research focuses is on mule deer movement across California, and how they are impacted by mountain lions, human recreation, drought, and fire. “We want to better anticipate how animals like mule deer and mountain lions react to the synergistic effects of climate change so that we can take proactive steps to conserve them, rather than always trying to catch up,” Smith said.

The Smith Lab works closely with a nonprofit in the Patagonia region of South America to restore habitats near livestock operations, using movement behaviors to recover wildlife populations without negatively impacting people’s ability to make a living. “It’s a really important component of our work, to make sure we’re doing research that is informed by people who live where we work,” Smith said.

For the future, Smith said she hopes to use her research to inform the public and develop new practices around wildlife conservation. “We’re just going to keep expanding on our work and looking for ways to reach out to the public,” Smith said.