What do San Clemente Loggerhead Shrikes and Salt Marsh Harvest Mice have in common? Both species are endangered, and both provide prime ground for the field of ecomorphology to intersect with conservation and natural resources. In this talk, Diego Sustaita presents snapshots of two case studies that show how studying animal form and function can inform wildlife conservation and management.
The first case study looks at the ontogeny of feeding performance in San Clemente Loggerhead Shrikes – that is, how beak development as the bird grows affects its performance as a predator. This work is important for captive breeding efforts because it provides ways to measure predatory performance and an opportunity to assess whether juvenile feeding performance predicts post-release survival.
A second case study examines habitat use in the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse. It’s possible that these mice possess specialized swimming and climbing capabilities that allow them to tolerate periods of flooding. Understanding more about this species’ capabilities could allow scientists to assess the potential impacts of tidal restoration, because it will shed light on how mice negotiate flooded habitats.
Taken together, these studies provide new insights and metrics for species of conservation concern, which could ultimately aid in their preservation.
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Diego Sustaita is an organismal biologist who specializes in ecological morphology. His research is focused on feeding and locomotor mechanisms of birds and small mammals, to better understand specifically how and why they are adapted to their environments. His research integrates anatomy, biomechanics, ecology, and wildlife conservation & management. He is an Assistant Professor of Biology at California State University, San Marcos. Diego obtained B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biology from California State University, Northridge, and a Ph.D. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut. During his academic training he worked for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, where he currently holds an Environmental Scientist position as well.