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Urban Ecologist/Superhero

Published on December 12, 2018

Christopher Schell
Image Credit: UWTNews

UW Tacoma Assistant Professor Christopher Schell is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as evidenced by the Black Panther coffee cup and Black Panther bobble head on his desk. Schell is a scientist, not a superhero; but if he were to assume a secret identity he might be dubbed, “Coyote.”

Schell is an urban ecologist with an affinity for carnivores like coyotes. This interest goes back decades to his childhood in Pasadena, California. “As a kid I just remember coyotes being on the street all the time,” said Schell. “I lived near the Rose Bowl and there’s tons of wildlife in that area including raccoons and bobcats.”

Schell’s early interest in science and nature was bolstered by the film Jurassic Park. “I loved that movie as a kid and, as many scientists will tell you, we got into science thinking we were going to be the next Ian Malcolm or the next Alan Grant,” said Schell.

Schell’s parents encouraged his interests and steered him toward science fairs where he often won first place. “I don’t know if it’s correct to call me the oddball but I definitely liked science and math more than my friends did,” he said

Schell started at UW Tacoma this past fall and hit the ground running. He launched the Grit City Carnivore Project in collaboration with Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Northwest Trek and Metro Parks Tacoma. “Our overall goal is to understand how carnivores are adapting to cities,” said Schell. “In natural environments, wolves, bears, and mountain lions serve as the top predators. Well, the same structure exists in urban environments,” he said, “and previous studies have shown that coyotes and raccoons serve that top-predator function in urban ecosystems.”

The multi-year project will include a citizen science angle where Tacoma residents can report sightings of urban wildlife such as coyotes and raccoons. Schell also has a lab on campus that will facilitate student research. “I have a student who’s interested in the differences in boldness and cognition between urban and rural crows and another student who’s investigating how seasonal variation in light influences activity patterns of a whole host of species,” he said.

Continue reading at UW Tacoma News and Information

Originally posted on UW Tacoma News and Information
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