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Dr. Laura Prugh

Associate Professor of Quantitative Wildlife Sciences;
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington

Dr. Laura Prugh

Dr. Prugh is a leading researcher in the field of wildlife community ecology, with particular expertise in the ecology of wild canids. She obtained her PhD from the University of British Columbia in 2005, where she studied the foraging ecology of coyotes in Alaska. She then conducted postdoctoral research at the University of California Berkeley and was an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks from 2012-2015. She is now an associate professor of quantitative wildlife sciences at the University of Washington and director the SEFS Genetics Lab. Dr. Prugh has conducted global analyses of interactions among large and small carnivores, as well as intensive field studies of coyotes, wolves, and other carnivores in Alaska and Washington. She currently leads the first study of coyotes in Seattle, which is examining the potential for urban coyotes to serve as sentinels for human health. In recognition of her contributions to carnivore ecology, Dr. Prugh received a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (PECASE) in 2019, which is the highest honor bestowed by the US Government on early career scientists and engineers.

Thriving in the Anthropocene: exploring the ecosystem roles of coyotes from wildlands to cities

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are perhaps the world’s most successful wild canid in the age of the Anthropocene. Historically limited to the central plains, the range of coyotes has been expanding since the 1800’s despite intense persecution by people. Coyotes now occur from Alaska to Panama and from coast to coast, and they are found in nearly every major city of North America. What is the secret of their success, and what is their role in our ever-changing world? In my talk, I will share insights from 25 years of studying these remarkable animals. From the wilds of Alaska to downtown Seattle, my research lab has examined the population dynamics, genetics, diets, health, and food web interactions of coyotes. I will explain how these factors are intertwined with one another, and explore their keystone role as a generalist mesopredator in wild and urban ecosystems alike. Coyotes are masters at navigating landscapes of risks and rewards, and our research shows these tradeoffs are especially complex at the urban-wildland interface where coyotes face threats and foraging opportunities from both people and large carnivores. Finally, I will share emerging findings from the Sentinels of the City project that is currently underway, where we are exploring links between diet, abundance, exposure to toxins, and parasite loads of coyotes in the Seattle-Tacoma region. A better understanding of these linkages could help to improve the health of cities for both people and wildlife.

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