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Meet Eric Abelson

Eric Abelson is a Research Scientist in the Department of Integrative Biology. He works closely with the Biodiversity Center.

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Tell us where you came from before UT, and what you studied.

After receiving my Ph.D. from Stanford University, where I worked on wildlife behavior and conservation ecology, I went on to two post-doc positions.  The first was at UCLA where I focused on puma movement ecology and behavior in response to human-generated environmental disturbance (especially light and noise).  I then continued studying movement ecology more broadly across a suite of taxa in California’s Sierra Nevada range using a range of movement modeling techniques.  Broadly, my interests sit at the intersection of wildlife ecology, landscape ecology and animal behavior – much of my work also has implications for conservation biology.

What got you interested in wildlife?

I have long been interested in understanding the pressures that shape and maintain biotic communities (with regard to both flora and fauna).  I enjoyed learning about species interactions and what how the presence of one species influences the greater ecology of an area.  Late in my indirect and winding path to finishing my undergraduate degree, I discovered there is the opportunity to spend one’s life observing nature and developing clever ways to test novel hypotheses – after that, I set my course on being an researcher in an academic environment.

How have you used museum collections in your research?

While a large portion of my research is focused on field work and computer modeling, I have spent years working with mammalian collections.  I measured skull morphology, with the aim of examining broad ecological questions, in a number of museums across the nation.  Through years of examining specimens at collections from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to the California Academy of Sciences, and taxa from polar bear to shrew, I developed a deep appreciation for museum collections.  Having specimens in hand is an irreplaceable learning experience; coupled with the fact that museum collections provide a single place for how species change through time and space has left me with a deep respect for collections and those that maintain them.  

Where do you see your research agenda heading here at UT?

UT has many amazing opportunities – for example, the UT field stations (Stengl Lost Pines and Brackenridge Field Lab) set the stage for research addressing unique challenges that wildlife face in Texas.  Currently, my research is largely focused on landscape ecology, wildlife movement behavior, conservation ecology, species interactions, and wildlife response to anthropogenic disturbance (including climate variability and change).  I am eager to forge new paths through collaborating with researchers and faculty in the Biodiversity Center and across campus. 

I am looking forward to working at Stengl and BFL for my own research as well as helping in any way I can to support the UT field stations on their upward trajectory of importance in the national field station community.  While expanding on the topics I currently work on, I am also interested in more deeply pursuing species interactions across space and time; exploring how wildlife movement and behavior shapes, and is shaped by, plant phenology; and applications to expand ways in which remote sensing of wildlife and flora (e.g. via remotely triggered cameras and acoustic detectors), coupled with artificial intelligence, can be a catalyst for novel research avenues that have been historically impossible. 

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