May 23, 2019

Researcher brings a mathematical ecologist's lens to understanding disease in caribou populations

Stephanie Peacock receives Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship

University of Calgary postdoctoral scholar Stephanie Peacock, above, has earned a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship that connects scientific, local, and Indigenous knowledge to understand the role of disease in wildlife population declines.

Dr. Peacock, PhD, is one of three UCalgary postdoctoral scholars to receive a Banting fellowship this year. Peacock is a mathematical ecologist interested in population ecology of parasites and their hosts. She looks at how to develop and apply mathematical models to understand how disease may act with other stressors to contribute to wildlife population declines. Her Banting project at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) will specifically focus on caribou.  

“Caribou are a highly valued species in Canada, particularly for Indigenous cultures, but have experienced widespread declines in recent decades," says Peacock. “The outcomes will provide new theory in wildlife disease ecology, address the knowledge gap around how health interacts with other stressors to influence caribou population dynamics, and guide effective conservation and co-management efforts for caribou.”

Emerging infectious diseases

Wildlife in the Arctic is increasingly threatened, in part because rapid climate change is facilitating the emergence and spread of parasitic diseases. Emerging infectious diseases are an understudied factor that may be contributing to the widespread decline of caribou in the Canadian Arctic.

“My career goal has always been to generate knowledge that supports evidence-based policies regarding natural resource management. This work will positively benefit Indigenous communities by developing new approaches for promoting the co-management of caribou conservation and potentially other Arctic wildlife,” said Peacock.

Interdisciplinary approach

Peacock uses a number of approaches in her research including experiments, observational studies, and mathematical modeling. Her approach will help address data gaps, while simultaneously increasing local relevance of scientific research and promoting co-management of natural resources. Peacock will be supervised by Dr. Susan Kutz, DVM, PhD, professor in ecosystem and public Health at UCVM, who has developed community-based wildlife health monitoring programs in the Canadian Arctic for over 25 years.

“With her unique skills in mathematical ecology, Stephanie has been a great addition to my research group,” says Kutz. “I look forward to working with her further as she develops new tools to translate local, traditional and scientific knowledge into predictive models aimed at better understanding wildlife health and contributing to wildlife conservation.”