Welcome to our new website!
Welcome to our new website! This launch marks an important transition for me and the Mills Lab. After 18 marvelous years at University of Montana, in July 2013 I moved to North Carolina State University. Why did I move away from a place as wonderful as University of Montana? First, I was intrigued and excited by the platform at NCSU for new and expanded research directions in interdisciplinary conservation biology. My position in the “Global Environmental Change and Human Well-Being” Cluster at NCSU is a perfect immersion into cross-cutting research collaborations: I work with folks from multiple Colleges at NCSU, as well as the Southeast Climate Science Center and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. This means that our projects can proliferate in all sorts of new directions. For example, at the College of Veterinary Medicine we have built the world’s first sub-zero temperature and photoperiod controlled breeding facility to experimentally study the coat color molt and behaviors of animals that undergo seasonal coat color change. As a second example, we are collaborating with folks at the SE Climate Science Center on snow downscaling. And third, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences has fantastic staff and programs that connect research to public outreach in all sorts of creative ways. (My wife Lisa works as Science Outreach Specialist in the College of Natural Resources, so on other outreach fronts she and I are collaborating on the research/outreach interface on projects ranging from Asian Elephants to seasonal coat color change).
The other, more personal motivation for the move to NCSU was that my wife and I grew up here. I’m a 5th generation North Carolinian, and still have lots of family in these parts. We’re thrilled to have family around, and to be able to enjoy the beach, the Blue Ridge mountains, the rivers and ponds, not to mention barbeque, banana pudding, fried okra, and grits!
The transition here was made easier by my students Marketa and Alex moving with me. They finished or are finishing their MS degrees at UM, and starting their PhDs here at NCSU. Also, the transition has not been abrupt, because we still have lots going on out west. For one, of course, I still have my friends and collaborators at Univ. MT. And I still have 3 PhD students that will be finishing their dissertations at at Univ. MT (Julie Betsch-Weckworth, Tshewang Wangchuk, Tempa Tshering). Third, the summertime snowshoe hare monitoring in Montana has been funded by NSF for another 5 years (to reach a 20 year time series!), so we’ll be heading out there each June. And finally, we’re contemplating projects in the Cascades of Washington on hares, and potentially in Wyoming / Montana on carnivores.
What else will be doing now that we’re here? Our work in Central Asia, particularly Bhutan and the Bhutan/India border, will continue to prosper and expand (elephants, tigers, snow leopards, and more!). Our work on seasonal coat color mismatch and climate change is spiraling to amazing new heights. We’ve started pilot projects in West Virginia and Washington, both with hares and also dabbling with weasels, which also change to white in some parts of their range. We’re going global, hoping to begin work on some of the other 14 or so coat color molting species around the world. All of this is made possible, of course, by an increasing band of students and collaborators. Dr. Klaus Hackländer from Austria has been a blast to have here for his sabbatical year, and he’s got us thinking about how stress hormones might affect the molt, and about hares in the Alps. Dr. Paulo Alves visited us in the Fall, and continues to be our strong connection to Portugal and to the skills of his team (eg Jose Melo-Ferreiro) in so many aspects of applied ecology and evolution, including the genomics of the color molt (Dr. Jeff Good, from Univ. MT, is also a key collaborator on that). And new collaborations building in Scotland, Sweden, multiple regions of North America, and more… stay tuned.
Oh, and we’re also contemplating and starting some local projects; for example we’ll be involved in helping to combine habitat and population models under uncertainty to help guide management actions, with Fort Bragg Army base as a test site.
Watch this website, and you’ll see the parade of amazing undergraduate, graduate students and postdocs already here and arriving over the next year. These are, literally, some of the most talented people on earth, hailing from around the world and bringing energy and deep insights into wildlife population ecology and conservation science.
So that’s what this website will be about: to tell our story of our research, outreach, and activities to help move forward global conservation. I know we won’t capture everything on these pages, but we’ll try to grab the main threads. We’re also going to try to keep track of folks who have worked with me in the past, and then moved on to make their own terrific contributions. For example, we’re well into the hundreds of undergraduates and technicians who have been the lifeblood of our projects. We’re working to list them all and keep track, and maybe even have a reunion sometime soon. (So, if you have worked with us in the past, and we don’t have you listed, please let us know!).
Finally, I want to give a special shout out to Jennifer Feltner for developing this website. She only moved here and began her PhD this semester, yet somehow on top of everything else as a new student, she took on the task of building this site, from the ground up. Thanks Jenn!
And thanks to everyone else for all you do for conservation. Y’all inspire me every day.