With a Conservationists Wild Yell, David Steen Joins RealScientists!

This week we have the pleasure of introducing David Steen to the RealScientists curator pool. David tweets @AlongsideWild, and keeps a blog, called ‘Living Alongside Wildlife’, here. He’s done a fantastic job answering our normal incoming curator questions, so I’ll let him introduce himself.David Steen 1

Why/How did you end up in science?

For as long as I can remember I have been looking under rocks, rolling logs, and wading through streams to look for interesting creatures and trying to figure out what they were up to. Somewhere along the way I started to get paid for it.

Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?

Aldo Leopold said, “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” I am one of the latter. As a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist, my goals are to generate a better understanding of how wildlife populations use and persist on landscapes as well as recommendations regarding how we can develop, farm, restore, and live on these landscapes while accommodating wildlife and natural ecological processes.

Tell us about your work?

As our landscapes change, we must identify conflicts with the needs of wild things and generate innovative solutions that allow us to live alongside them in perpetuity. Natural history and ecology are the foundations of my research; all research is grounded in the understanding that I am studying living and breathing wild creatures that persist in the landscape by escaping predation, catching prey, finding mates and successfully reproducing.

I strive to conduct research relevant to current conservation issues while generating information that will aid in the formulation of effective multi-species conservation planning. My research program is largely applied and integrative in the sense that I am interested in both population and assemblage-level studies as well as those that investigate spatial ecology and resource use; these studies occur within the context of landscape and restoration ecology, wildlife management, and conservation biology. In addition to natural history and applied studies, I maintain an interest in how interspecific interactions, such as predation and competition, influence population persistence and assemblage structure.

Finally, studies within applied fields such as wildlife management, restoration ecology, and conservation biology are implicitly goal-laden pursuits. For these studies to be objective and scientific, they must be grounded in a solid philosophical framework. Because of large-scale and ongoing environmental change, we must continuously reevaluate how we perceive the effects of this change and how we, as conservation biologists, should respond. I have recently developed an interest in building some of these frameworks.

Some of my ongoing projects include monitoring the Indigo Snakes that have been reintroduced into Conecuh National Forest, Alabama (they were extirpated from the state sometime around the 1960’s) and figuring out how their reappearance is affecting the ecosystem. I’m also studying how the Argentine Tegu, an invasive species in Florida, behaves in more temperate climates (i.e., Auburn, Alabama) and determining whether they can successfully reproduce this far north.

Past projects have researched how road mortality is changing freshwater turtle populations, how snake species interact with each other and how that influences their habitat use, whether we can restore bird and reptile assemblages in degraded longleaf pine forests, the prevalence of ingested fish hooks in freshwater turtles, as well as numerous studies on how different species, from salamanders to rattlesnakes, use natural landscapes. A full list of my publications can be found here.

Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?David Steen 2

Losing biodiversity because of how we use the land is a tragedy that would should all avoid because we are all losers when a species disappears from our landscapes. A sustainable vision for our future doesn’t consist solely of just cities and protected areas, but rather landscapes that include both wildlife and our homes, farms, and our businesses. We need research to figure out how we can create and maintain that balance.

Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?

I conduct a lot of online outreach, in addition to Twitter (@AlongsideWild) I maintain a blog,  that receives over 2,000 views a day. I also serve as an editor for three scientific journals.

Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

I’m a novice homebrewer, cook, and wildlife photographer. I also enjoy experiencing the nature and culture (particularly the food) of different areas.

How would you describe your ideal day off?

Sitting in a rocking chair on the porch in the morning, with nothing to do other than eat egg sandwiches and have too much coffee. Then, taking off in the afternoon for a kayaking/camping trip with close friends, my partner @farmsforests, and plenty of good suds and grub.

I’m super excited about David tweeting this week – for a kiwi girl, I have an unnatural love of snakes, so I’m looking forward to hearing more about his Indigo Snake reintroduction project. So, without further ado – everyone please welcome David Steen to RealScientists!


Sarah Morgan

I'm a Research Fellow at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I work in the meld space between compulsory education and tertiary scientific research; we develop teaching modules using the real research stories around us in the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease field. Engagement is the name of the game - creating opportunities for teachers, students and scientists to interact, and enrich learning on all sides. Scicomm is my passion, though I come from a molecular genetics research background.

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