Ron Togunov

E-mail: togunov@ualberta.ca

fieldRon received a Bachelor’s degree from York University. His honours thesis centred on the development of a novel method for estimating survivourship rates among juvenile passerines during seasonal migrations.

Ron’s research interests lie in the relation between the environment and fundamental animal behaviours, including migration and foraging. Currently, Ron is a MSc. candidate at the University of Alberta, Edmonton exploring polar bear, Ursus maritimus, movement ecology.

Understanding the behavioural response of animals to environmental variables is a key element of ecology and is important for predicting how they may respond to environmental change. Much of the research on polar bear movement focuses on broad spatial and temporal scales (eg. home range size or seasonal shifts in distribution). Ron’s research attempts to resolve some of the underlying factors that drive fine-scale movement in the context of polar bear behaviour (i.e. movement within a day).

IMG_7604tiltLike all animals, polar bears must budget their time for travel, mating, and foraging. Among female polar bears in particular, efficient foraging is crucial for maximizing fitness. However, given the complex nature of the vast and dynamic sea ice, how does a bear go about foraging optimally? Due to the structure of sea ice, a direct line of sight can have a relatively short range, rendering sight alone inadequate. Furthermore, during spring, ringed seals, Pusa hispida, give birth in subnivean lairs which are not possible to locate with only sight. As a secondary line of environmental sensing, polar bears are very sensitive to odours and often exhibit olfactory search behaviour (such as sniffing the snow surface and the air).

The research relates polar bear GPS movement data to environmental factors which may underlie bear foraging and navigation. Factors we expect natural selection has tuned polar bears to exploit optimally.

This research sheds light on the biological mysteries of polar bear foraging. It also helps produce a more complete picture of the role the environment plays in fine-scale behaviours. Understanding this relationship can aid in conservation by providing a more complete picture about the relationship of bears to their environment.

Stemming from his experience studying in Norway and Sweden, Ron is also interested in increasing international collaboration among scientists. This is crucial for the development and implementation of multilateral environmental management and sustainable development protocols.

 

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