OSU Wildlife Extension provides education programs, products, and knowledge related to conservation and management of Oregon’s wildlife species and their habitats. Wildlife Extension provides information via presentations within programs such as Master Gardener trainings, via published products, and other programming. Oregonians also can ask their own wildlife-related questions through the convenient Ask an Expert portal.
Facts of (wild)life
Wildlife species provide numerous benefits for people, ranging from the pleasures of wildlife-watching in our own backyards to the challenges of harvesting nutritious wild game meat. Wildlife species play important behind-the-scenes roles in the functioning of our ecosystems. Their daily activities provide benefits that we tend to forget, such as nutrient cycling, pollination and seed dispersal, keeping other species in check, and many other interactions with soil, water, air, vegetation, and other animals. Humans and wild animals now often
Wild animals are intimately tied to their habitat. Although the word “habitat” is often used very loosely, the ecological reality of habitat is much more than an “address” at which an individual animal lives. Instead, habitat is a combination of biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) factors that are necessary for occupancy, survival, and reproduction by individual members of a certain species of animal. Every species of animal has evolved an instinctive drive to locate habitat that will provide the foods, water, cover (shelter or structure), and other factors necessary to address those needs. Therefore, answering the question of “what is habitat?” is totally dependent on which animal species we are considering. For example, an animal that itself is prey (food) for other animals tends to choose habitat and conducts its activities in ways to minimize the risk of being caught by predators. Knowing this, we can then logically expect to find that components of dark-eyed junco (bird) habitat are very different from those sought out by a gray fox.
Several points emerge once we start thinking about the ecology of each wildlife species:
- Habitat requirements for each species reflect the native (original) ecological communities in which that animal species evolved.
- Keeping a species-specific and habitat focus in mind will help whether
- We're seeking to encourage and increase wildlife
- Or working to avoid or manage conflicts between humans-wildlife
Preventing and Managing Human-Wildlife Conflicts
Wildlife-human conflicts arise when:
- Wild animals get into human structures, such as homes, barns, and vehicles.
- Animals eat what we don’t want them to eat:
- Ornamental landscaping plants
- Our gardens
- Our production agriculture crops
- Our animals (pets or agricultural animals)
- Animals cause structural damage
- Buildings, vehicles, earthen banks, etc.
- Animals cause a physical risk to humans or domestic animals
- Real – Either direct contact such as bites or indirect via disease or parasites
Prevention is always the best and most efficient approach to potential conflicts between wild animals and humans. Prevention is possible when we consider what animal species occur in the area, learn about the ecology of those species, and then anticipate how the animals’ quest for their needed resources might conflict with our desires in terms of our homes, yards, and activities (such as keeping pets).
General rules to prevent problems from developing:
- Exclude animals from your home or the area you’re interested in
- Think about primary access points, such as the temptation offered by missing or broken screening for crawl space vents
- Don’t provide a “free lunch (or dinner)”!
- Keep all food and garbage indoors or in wildlife-proof containers
- Do not leave pet food out overnight, especially
- Manage spillage of bird seed and other potential food sources, such as wind-fall fruit
Conflict or damage situations will likely require multiple approaches, depending on the nature of the conflict, the identity of the species involved, and the situation. In general, we manage conflicts through:
- Blocking access, or creating a barrier between wild animal and your ____ (house, garden, etc.)
- “Change the game” or make your home/garden less desirable by removing tempting food and shelter opportunities
- Deterring through noise, scaring (hazing), or visuals
- Removing the animals (trap and kill or poison baits)
Enhancing Habitat to Encourage Wildlife Use of your Area
Our efforts to encourage and enhance wildlife populations and their habitats will be most effective when we consider what animal species occur (or should naturally occur) in the area, learn about the ecology of those species, and then anticipate what resources are available for the animals versus which vital resources are missing.
Things to learn about the species you want to encourage:
- What time of year do they live in our area? Do they live here all year or just in certain seasons?
- What do they eat?
- If they are year-round residents, what foods do they seek in different seasons?
- Where do they get their water?
- Some animals require “free water”, or actual liquid available in streams or puddles
- Other animals gain water from the foods they eat, such as grasses or other animals
- Some animals depend primarily on water generated internally in their bodies as their foods are digested
- What types of shelter or cover do they use, if any?
- Cover can provide shelter from weather (high-low temperatures, precipitation)
- Cover can provide shelter to hide from predators or to make a stealthy approach to prey
- Cover or structure can be vital for reproduction and/or day-to-day living
- Some creatures use cavities in trees or cool spots beneath rocks depending on their needs
- Many animals create or use structure for rearing offspring
- Cavities for nests or dreys
- Vegetation structure for nest-building, as well as fibers and materials for building the nest
- Does this particular species have other species-specific needs? Some animals require a very specific resource, whereas others require a specific arrangement of resources:
- For example,
- Some native insect pollinators require small patches of bare dirt so that they can lay their eggs. Bare dirt patches are actually quite rare in the landscape of many towns and cities because we humans tend to cover all ground surfaces with plants, bark dust, or structures (including driveways).
- Bluebirds require nest cavities (either in trees or bluebird houses) in close proximity to open areas, where they hunt for flying insects. Unless the full set of resources (open area + flying insects + nesting cavity) occurs, bluebird pairs won’t take up residence.
- For example,
This information is provided for prospective and future wildlife ecologists who have not yet entered graduate school. I provide some basic information as well as some “insider info” that might help you as you consider doing graduate work in the wildlife field. If you’re visiting this page because you’re applying directly for an advertised position in my lab, you might want to skip all the way down to the “What I’m looking for…” section.
How do I find a graduate mentor and project?
As you begin searching for potential projects, remember that the best-case scenario for you is:
- A funded project (including money for your stipend, health insurance, and project costs –a tuition waiver would be a bonus)
- With a constructive and engaged mentor who will guide you in your development as a wildlife scientist
- Through the course of a project that will essentially apprentice you in building and implementing sound, independent projects of your own, regardless of study animal or system.
The preferred and “most likely to succeed” method #1:
Get to know people, who are currently active in wildlife research, such as faculty members who employ graduate students --- in person, not e-mail, random phone call, etc. By joining and then attending the state, regional, or national conferences of professional societies of scientists, such as The Wildlife Society, the Society for Conservation Biology, you will: 1) get to know who might be accepting graduate students soon, what types of projects are currently available or coming up soon, 2) get your face, knowledge, and interest in grad school known among those who are or will be hiring, 3) gather valuable contacts and invitations to continue conversations, 4) meet current, aspiring, and recently finished grad students who can connect you with their own contacts, and 5) listen to talks and visit posters on the most cutting-edge work, often before it is published in journals 6) step up and volunteer to do “service” work by signing up to help with a committee, etc. By joining a committee or working group, you’ll get to know that many more people and they’ll get to know you and your interests that much better.
Why bother overcoming your (reluctance/shyness/introversion/busy-ness) to introduce yourself to prospective mentors?
Well, because conference conversations can end in, “Call me in about __ weeks – I might know more about funding by then” or “I don’t have a grad opening right now, but I DO need a field technician to help out on my ___ project, and I generally only hire folks who have worked for me in the field.” THOSE conversations are the ones that most frequently lead to a person getting invited to apply for an opening. And when that invitation does come, your materials need to already be polished, proofread, and ready to send!
The preferred and “most likely to succeed” method #1a:
Visit job boards regularly to immediately notice when new graduate assistantships get posted. If you’re planning to start grad school next fall, begin checking job boards regularly (1x or more/week) this winter and into early next spring. That’s when grad advisors (generally) start learning that funding will be coming in for sure on proposed projects, etc., so you can see the job boards start to “blossom” with more ads. Monitor job boards such as those maintained by The Wildlife Society and Texas A&M's Wildlife Dept. Some list serves, such as edulog allow job postings, too.
As you begin exploring job boards, go ahead and open several of the ads. Note how prospective employers emphasize certain skill areas or experience sets, and also note what materials are requested from interested applicants. Even if you are not quite ready to apply, you should be crafting and polishing your materials so that you will be ready to apply promptly when you see an ad that interests you.
For both #1 and #1a:
Get familiar with the research interests of the faculty members who might be prospective mentors for your grad project. Basic level: Find their work via Google Scholar and research databases such as Web of Science, or Wildlife & Ecology Studies Worldwide. In other words, get to know the primary literature – If you’re unfamiliar with using the research databases, consult with your campus librarian about using those resources because all grad mentors will expect you to know how to search the literature with those tools. READ the work so you can discuss it and start reading related work so you have a broader understanding of the area in which they’re working (HINT: Check out the papers they cite.)
On the “do full University application first, then contact faculty” approach in hopes of obtaining a graduate position:
I would offer some food for thought. As I wrote above, finding an already-funded position is the best strategy for getting into grad school in our field, as opposed to applying first and then trying to secure an advisor. In many cases it is best to save your application fee(s) until you have at least a verbal offer of acceptance from a faculty member. Keep reading – I think I’ll have you convinced by the end of this site. This is part of your homework however, some faculty DO want your full, official application completed before they will consider you.
On the use of “cold-calls” to wildlife faculty:
Fisheries and Wildlife is a really competitive field. Without a look at your resume or CV, it would be hard for any prospective mentor to assess whether you already have the background and undergrad coursework and field experience to apply directly for MS assistantships in F&W. Even if you send your basic materials (CV, GREs, GPA, etc. – see below) in an e-mail, there is little most of us (faculty) can do if we don’t have a funded position for which you can apply. See more under “What am I looking for when screening applications from prospective graduate researchers?” to get a better understanding of what I mean.
Presenting yourself (electronically) to a prospective mentor/employer
When you contact a prospective faculty mentor, at a minimum you should write a short, professional e-mail introducing yourself, the nature of your inquiry (e.g., seeking a master’s assistantship), and your availability timeline (e.g., interested in starting fall term 20XX). You should briefly refer to any prior conversations you have had (e.g., I enjoyed meeting you at the recent TWS conference) and emphasize whichever of your strong points (e.g., specific prior experiences gained on field projects, GREs, GPA, experience with a specific taxa or technique) most closely matches the needs you glean from your exploration of the faculty member’s research lab and/or the specific position announcement.
Most advertised positions will request that you send or attach the following materials. If you do not have all of these available (i.e., complete, polished, and proofread), then it is likely too soon for you to be making inquiries to prospective mentors.
- GRE scores
- Unofficial transcripts
- Letter of intent
- Sample of professional (scientific style) writing
Modify your CV to boost your visibility and competitiveness.
This is far from exhaustive, but these points come up over and over when I open prospective students’ e-mails: Always present key information to right up front. For example, your Education section should include your GPA, GRE scores, and year of degree completion. If you have any publications and/or presentations (e.g., conference talks or posters), get those listed in an appropriately labeled section. If your honors and awards came with $ attached, reformat that section so you can show that you have a foundation of achievement and/or grant writing skills. Create a section to show your involvement or service with professional societies. If you don’t have that, get it or at least show that you’re making a commitment in that direction: I consider involvement with the profession an integral part of what it means to be a professional wildlife biologist (see Professional societies section).
If you are an international scholar ,your CV and materials must also include your TOEFL or IELTS scores. Many graduate students are partially funded via Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTA), and most universities have a minimum TOEFL/IELTS score for GTAs, even if individual Departments do not.
I strongly encourage you to get involved with The Wildlife Society at the very least. Consider joining and participating in additional groups of natural resource professionals, such as the Society for Range Management or societies focused along taxonomic groups, such as the American Society of Mammalogists. Yet others focus on professional development of individual scientists through all of their career life stages, regardless of disciplinary field. For example, the Society for Advancement of Chicano/as and Native Americans in Science is a highly inclusive organization of scientists who focus on professional development, the latest science discoveries, and direct involvement of students of all levels.
Networking, or becoming a known face in the crowd, among your fellow ecologists is absolutely vital period. Interacting with prospective advisors and employers at professional conferences is one of the best ways to avoid being a ;cold call; contact once you decide to apply for graduate or professional positions.
These groups of your scientific colleagues offer workshops, conferences, and connections that can be vitally helpful and important at this and all stages of your career. Most professional societies offer various scales of membership and gatherings, such as student, state, regional, and National chapters of TWS. MANY projects, collaborations, and graduate assistantships come out of conversations started at state chapter and National conferences. Adding a CV-visible record of professional service (e.g., committee service), conferencing, and involvement with professional scientific societies will make your package more competitive because it shows your commitment to investing in both yourself and the profession as long-term projects.
If you are already involved with professional societies, or you were involved in student chapters as an undergrad, then you have great start at your professional network! But keep up and intensify your activities (e.g., run for a leadership position within the State chapter or volunteer to serve on a National-level committee) and make those contributions more explicit in your CV.
If you are switching fields and now want to study wildlife or
If you have a FW Bachelor degree and just lack experience
If you are switching fields, you might consider completing what is called a “post-bacc” or core of a second Bachelor’s degree (a “post-baccalaureate” or post-bacc). Doing so would give you (and your transcripts) that foundation of courses and experiences that would make you more competitive against folks who have their B.S. in F&W. Our Department does offer the opportunity to complete a post-bacc, either on campus, or online. Again, without knowing more about your background, it’s hard to say whether that is going to be the best option for you, but it’s a route to explore.
Either way, you need to garner field experience so that your record makes it obvious that you are ready to do semi- to fully- independent field research in challenging environments. I would advise getting as much wildlife-related field experience as you can, even if that means volunteering to help out a grad student on their project. Many field technician positions are advertised on job boards (e.g., The Wildlife Society, Texas A&M's Wildlife Dept and USAJobs). If you search under “biological technician” in USAJobs you will find listings for seasonal entry-level field positions.
What are faculty looking for and considering when screening applications from prospective graduate researchers?
First, although each faculty advisor own spin on this, most prospective graduate mentors are looking for an ideal somebody who can grow to do all of several crucial things over the span of 2-3 years (using a MS student example). This person will excel at understanding existing ecological theory and findings before formulating testable research hypotheses; will design a project that will provide the critical data to test those hypotheses; will do an excellent job of data collection in the field; will be professional with regards to equipment, crew management, collaboration, and communications; will be bold and adaptable enough to find and learn the best statistical and analytical tools to fit the questions at hand; and then will follow through by writing the results to meet the high standards and demanding style peer-reviewed scientific journals. That's a lot, but that in a nutshell plus about 45-50 (quarter) credits of grad-level coursework is a Masters degree. So keep all that in mind ("big picture") when searching out additional opportunities to grow your CV and to present your full application package to prospective mentors.
The money, investment, and risk side of the big picture is also something you need to understand. Taking on graduate students represents a huge investment of dollars, time, effort, responsibility, and risk for prospective advisors. For example, before I feel ready to advertise a funded position, I need to (in 2013 dollars at my institution) successfully raise >$31,000 per year of the student’s expected course of study here, PLUS money for their project. (Think: vehicles, gas, flights, supplies, radio telemetry equipment, permits, housing, journal page charges, etc., etc.) Graduate advisors can support students’ salaries through Graduate Research Assistantships (GRA), Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTA) or other mechanisms. Supporting a student with teaching appointments (GTAs) adds another layer of planning, resource allocation, and attention when selecting the grad student. Your advisor (i.e., your “major professor”) has to line up those resources before s/he can (in good faith) advertise a position. Your prospective major professor has enormous responsibilities to the funder(s) to produce a high-quality, rigorously analyzed, complete project by a certain date. Finally, once I make an offer to an incoming student, we have to go ahead and do the whole official University application process. In my Department, that includes consideration of the completed application packet by at least 3 members of the FW Dept. Graduate Committee.
Their role is to give recommendations to the prospective major prof and the Department’s Graduate Advisor as to whether the candidate is likely to succeed in graduate work, whether the student should be given provisional or full acceptance, and what areas of weakness (e.g., quantitative skills) need to be proactively addressed through additional coursework. Our Department has minimum standards for GPA and GREs: A candidate can be considered if they don’t meet those marks, but the prospective major advisor must submit a letter addressing why s/he believes the candidate warrants acceptance. I’m generally willing to do that for people with whom I have decided to work, because at some point in the screening process I became very convinced of their ability to shine in the position. So that means that the candidate must already have illustrated to me that they’re aware of their challenging areas and have already taken proactive steps to build their skills (e.g., taking additional courses on their own since the GRE was taken, producing research publications that demonstrate skill not reflected in GPA, etc.).
So that leads me to share some very fine-scale aspects of what I look for in applicants’ materials, during reference checks, and in conversations with applicants and their past collaborators. Because of all of the factors and pressures mentioned above, at an absolute minimum I look for somebody who has a strong, basic educational background and knowledge of the wildlife and conservation fields and who has enough field experience to be safe and to do competent science out in the field. I do look at GPA and GREs, but I don’t base my decisions on those alone.
- Beyond those absolute basics, I look for individuals with what often gets labeled maturity and “horse sense.” I need to know that my students have good judgment, not just in the field, but when speaking with their peers, landowners, other stakeholders on a research project or area, etc. I cannot and will not retain a student if I must constantly worry about that person’s judgment, therefore I probe pretty deeply when I inquire of references.
- Similarly, I fully realize from direct experience that graduate work is at times taxing, difficult, and a stress on individuals and their families. Therefore I look for people who have the drive, commitment, and tenacity to stay engaged through to the end of their programs. For all of the reasons I have described above, I do not take risks on people who give me the impression that they might drop out or quit after an initial flush of enthusiasm about starting graduate work.
- Learning and practicing excellence in the scientific writing genre is a major, challenging, and never-ending quest. I only extend offers to individuals who demonstrate that they are already strong and growing in their scientific (i.e., journal style) writing skills. Combining the commitment and writing skills factors, I expect my students to prepare their thesis/dissertation chapters as publishable articles and to see the articles through from submission to final publication.
- Finally, I practice a strong personal and professional commitment to social justice, diversity, and inclusion. We are all works in progress in terms of our cultural competencies, but I believe that a commitment to reflective learning and skill-building should be a core competence among people researching, managing, and regulating the public trust’s wildlife resources. I welcome students who are similarly committed to a sense of professionalism that includes respect and inclusion.
Summing up: Doing a good job of marketing your strengths and keeping the potential grad advisor's big picture in mind will be of help as you continue navigating the process of getting into a graduate program. Beyond that, keeping these aspects of the big picture in mind during your grad years might prove helpful in keeping on course toward a successful experience during and beyond your graduate education. For example, consider how those big picture issues must translate into the questions you can expect prospective advisors to be asking themselves when they “meet” you through your CV and then over the phone or in person. Also consider how these very real issues feed into the advisor’s expectations in terms of rigor, student independence, product quality, and time management.
Learn more about careers in working with wildlife from The Wildlife Society.