Lessons from the Field—and Forest

Russia presents a unique opportunity for conservation scientists: the chance to study the impact of land use changes on wildlife populations. Volker Radeloff and Anna Pidgeon, two of UW-Madison’s Forest and Wildlife Ecology professors, are partnering with Russian scientists to explore how wildlife populations are responding to the expansion of forests and wildlands—the opposite of what is happening in many places around the globe.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, many state-run farms were abandoned. Cultivated land began to revert to a more natural state, which created new spaces for wild animals to live and roam. Satellite imagery can help Radeloff and Pidgeon monitor land changes, but looking at remote sensing data only tells part of the story: When the duo identified a promising habitat for reintroducing a species of bison in a protected area, local scientists informed them that huntsmen would shoot the herd for food or sport—information that no satellite or scientific journal could provide.

In addition to making trips to Russia, Radeloff and Pidgeon regularly host Russian conservation scientists in their labs back at UW-Madison, collaborating on projects that aid visiting scientists’ efforts back home. By fostering relationships with scientists from other countries and cross-pollinating resources and training, they believe that they can further our understanding of supporting and preserving wildlife populations in habitats at home, in Russia, and in countries around the world.