Joel Berger

Last name: 
Berger
GBC Committee Role: 
Executive Committee

I work both as a CSU professor and as a senior scientist for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. Most work is 1) thematic – long-distance migration, climate impacts, and novelty in predator-prey relationships in the context of food webs; 2) set in North America, Arctic, Asia, and Africa; and 3) with mammals larger than a bread box. I note that conservation cannot be done in the absence of people, and have used science as a form of diplomacy to build bridges between protected areas and those not by uniting fieldwork and people in Bhutan, on the Tibetan Plateau, and in the Asian and American Arctic as well as in the heart of the American West – the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been a recipient of several Guggenheim and NSF awards, am an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, have twice been a finalist for the Indianapolis Prize, and honored with lifetime achievement awards by the Society of Conservation Biology and American Society of Mammalogists. In addition to four books and an edited volume, a new book will be published in 2017, Extreme Conservation – Contesting Species Extinctions at the Edges of the World.

Title/Role: 
Cox Chair of Conservation Biology
Phone: 
970-491-5020
Research Interests (Specific): 
I often take a pragmatic approach to science and conservation by asking ‘how to’ or ‘what if’ questions, with a focus on: a) how we might we assure long distance migrations beyond the boundaries of protected areas? B) factors likely to affect the short- and long-term persistence of Arctic and cold-adapted species of high elevation, species such as muskoxen, mountain goats, and wild yaks? C) approaches that will incentivize local herders and semi-nomads in central Asia to reduce their herd sizes of domestic stock because these affect the global trade of cashmere and core areas designed to protect endangered species like wild yaks and snow leopards and the lesser known kiang, khulan, and saiga, and 4) novelty in prey-predator relationships because of the movement of species due to climate or humans
Research Projects: 
Project Title: 
Novelty in Prey-Predator Relationships in the Arctic
Project Location Coordinates: 
66.8983° N, 162.5967° W and 71°14′N 179°25′W
Project Location Details: 
BERINGIA -- Russia and USA (Chukotka and Alaska)
Study Species: 
Muskoxen (along with transitional on polar and brown bears)
Project Citations: 

Berger, J. In Press. Science and challenge to conserve large wild mammals in 21st Century American Protected Areas. In, Science for Parks and Parks for Science, (ed. S. Beissinger), University of Chicago Press. Berger, J. 2012. Estimation of body-size traits by photogrammetry in large mammals to inform conservation. Conservation Biology 26:769-777.

Project Description: 
This project is addressing both direct and indirect consequences of climate alteration and human manipulations of sex ratios on the potential persistence of the Arctic's largest land mammal. Different components include 1) establishing ecological baselines both in the Alaskan and the Russian Arctic on individual growth rates (e. g. body size change) through non-invasive monitoring, 2) understanding the extent to which polar bear predation shapes future prospects for muskoxen persistence, and 3) variation in muskoxen responses to brown bear and polar bear possible predation.
Project Title: 
Climate and Challenge in a Cold-Adapted Obligate
Project Location: 
United States
Project Location Coordinates: 
48.7596° N, 113.7870°
Project Location Details: 
Glacier National Park, Montana
Study Species: 
Mountain Goats
Project Description: 
The project has funded Wesley Sarmento's and my work to understand what drives the distribution of mountain goats in areas where glacial recession has been rapid. Goats may be using certain habitats because human provide a buffer against predation, because humans provide nutritional subsidies, or because of altered plant communities due to warming temperatures.
Project Title: 
Rhino Conservation and Policy
Project Location Coordinates: 
-21.407641, 16.880038
Study Species: 
White and Black Rhinos
Project Description: 
The plight of white and black rhinos led several African nations to try radical conservation tactics _ dehorning. My team and I developed a program that involved field studies, simple economic analyses, and local people to evaluate the efficacy of dehorning. While controversial, our scientifically-grounded empirical work altered government policy and resulted in the cessation of dehorning as a practice for more than a decade.
Project Title: 
Muxoxen Research Program
Project Location: 
Russia
Project Location Coordinates: 
71.43042, 179.98695
Study Species: 
Muskox
Project Description: 
Climate is changing more rapidly in the Arctic than elsewhere. The sole obligate Arctic ungulate are muskoxen, but it has been unclear the extent to which climate or other drivers (if any) may threaten the persistence of muskoxen. Current efforts _ in year 6 _ are designed to examine how harvest of males, extreme climate events, and predation may interact to render populations susceptible to collapse. A program is also operating in association with Russian scientists on the Wrangel Island Zapovednic to develop ecological baselines using non-invasive photogrammetry.
Project Title: 
Cashmere Markets and Decline of Large Mammals
Project Location: 
Mongolia
Project Location Coordinates: 
47.81371, 101.14848
Project Description: 
The demand for cashmere as a fashion in the West is infusing incentives to produce more cashmere and this is resulting in an increase of goat herding by pastoralists across remote areas of Central Asia. While this is helping herders accrue more monies it is also affecting iconic and endangered large mammals such as wild yaks, kulan and kyang, saiga, and snow leopards. The challenges to maintaining human livelihoods yet protecting these rare species are enormous. My colleagues and I are trying to address these issues.
Project Title: 
In Situ and Ex Situ Conservation
Project Location: 
Mongolia
Project Location Coordinates: 
47.48807, 105.01567
Project Citations: 

The world's most northern antelope is the endangered saiga. A recent controversial challenge in Mongolia involved whether to develop a captive propagation center or to invest funds into in situ conservation. Our efforts with Mongolian biologists resulted population estimates in the wild to demonstrate that saiga were more abundant than had been presumed, and there was no need to concentrate on far more expensive ex situ practices. Mongolian Academy of Science biologists were sponsored for a training workshop in the USA on modern techniques to estimate population abundance. These are now the standard to estimate population sizes of some wildlife species. Further, we will be seeking ways to develop strategies to enhance future herder lifestyles while addressing negative effects of the growing cashmere trade (e. g. proliferation of domestic goats) on Central Asian large mammals; this involves engagement with the garment industry and local government.

Project Title: 
Advising and Fieldwork to Conserve Takin and Wild Yak
Project Location: 
Bhutan
Project Location Coordinates: 
28.47223, 89.67767
Project Description: 
In winter 2012, by invitation of the Bhutan government, we instigated a field program on behalf of a Bhutanese PhD student at the Ugyen Wangcuk Institute for Conservation and Environment a first ever radio-collaring project designed to garner information on the status of Bhutanes national mammal, the takin. Fieldwork and advising has since continued and, as we learn more, a Bhutanese-led national conservation strategy will be developed.Following on the heels of pioneering efforts by Dr. George Schaller and Dr. Aili Kang, colleagues and I have been advising, helping to structure, and participating in field programs on the Tibetan Plateau to enhance conservation of wild yaks. We are working at local and national levels to facilitate science-based on-the-ground conservation practices.
Project Title: 
Protecting Migration Corridors and Policy Change
Project Location: 
United States
Project Location Coordinates: 
43.79018, -110.68170
Project Description: 
The long distance migrations of land mammals have collapsed globally. Our efforts in the Teton region of the Greater Yellowstone resulted in the USA's 1st federally protected migration corridor, an area about 70 kms long and 2 kms wide. It is known colloquially as "Path of the Pronghorn" and featured in numerous books, by National Geographic and by Smithsonian Magazines, in the science journal, Nature, and elsewhere.
Project Title: 
Novelty in Prey-Predator Relationships in the Arctic
Project Location: 
Russia
Project Location Coordinates: 
71.23333, -179.38371
Project Description: 
This project is addressing both direct and indirect consequences of climate alteration and human manipulations of sex ratios on the potential persistence of the Arctic's largest land mammal. Different components include 1) establishing ecological baselines both in the Alaskan and the Russian Arctic on individual growth rates (e. g. body size change) through non-invasive monitoring, 2) understanding the extent to which polar bear predation shapes future prospects for muskoxen persistence, and 3) variation in muskoxen responses to brown bear and polar bear possible predation.