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Zoologist Merav Ben-David to Give UW Faculty Senate Speaker Series Talk

October 26, 2015
river otter standing on back legs and looking at camera with water behind it
River otters will be the subject of Merav Ben-David’s Faculty Senate Speaker Series talk Thursday, Nov. 5, at 4:10 p.m. in Room 302 of the UW Classroom Building. (Merav Ben-David Photo)

Merav Ben-David, University of Wyoming Department of Zoology and Physiology professor, will give the fall Faculty Senate Speaker Series talk Thursday, Nov. 5.

She will discuss social behavior of river otters in her talk, titled “When the planet warms up will social relationships cool down? A furry tail,” at 4:10 p.m. in Room 302 of the Classroom Building.

She says coastal river otters exhibit an unusual social organization with higher sociality among males. Telemetry tracking, captive observations and individual-based modeling revealed that otter sociality is largely driven by cooperative foraging on schooling fishes that are seasonally available in the nearshore environment. Climate change-induced increases in ocean temperatures diminish the availability of these fishes, leading to declines in otter abundance and sociality.

“By foraging in the sea and depositing urine and feces on land for scent communication, social individuals fertilize the terrestrial vegetation along the coast,” Ben-David says. “Declines in otter abundance and sociality will reduce community diversity, resilience and carbon sequestration capacity of Alaska’s coastal forests.”

Ben-David studies the effects of global change on a variety of animals, including the effects of invasive lake trout on river otters in Yellowstone Lake, sea ice loss in the Arctic on polar bears, and timber harvest on marten and ermine in southeast Alaska. In 2012, she received the Barrett-Hamilton Distinguished Ecologist Award from the University of Manitoba for her contributions to polar bear conservation.

Raised on a farm in Israel, Ben-David served two years in the Israeli Air Force, after which she received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology (1984) and Master of Science (1988) from Tel Aviv University. After working as a safari tour guide in Kenya for five years, she relocated to Alaska and received a Ph.D. in wildlife management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (1996). She arrived at UW as an assistant professor in 2000.

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