Dr. Stephen Blake

Affiliated Scientist
Department of Migration
Saint Louis University

Main Focus

My research straddles the line between applied research for crisis conservation objectives and a more academically driven agenda in which publishing is an important measure of success. The main focus of my research over the last 20 years has been on the movement ecology and conservation of mega-vertebrates. This theme has targeted two species in particular - forest elephants in the Congo Basin and giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands.

My forest elephant research developed incrementally from simple beginnings by asking fundamental questions on the abundance, distribution, size of home ranges, long distance migration the environmental factors that shape ranging in order to promote landscape scale conservation around national parks. In parallel, I developed a broader ecological research context that integrated habitat characterization, feeding ecology, migration, and feedbacks that shape the ecosystem engineering role of this iconic, poorly known and imperiled species. The central goal was always to better understand the ecology and conservation status of forest elephants to assist conservation efforts.

In 2008, I left central Africa, moving to the Galapagos Islands where I first sought to answer basic question of whether tortoise migration even occurred and if so, why. One year of GPS telemetry data and field censuses revealed that tortoises displayed a size-biased partial migratory system on Santa Cruz Island, driven primarily by the spatiotemporal distribution of forage. In parallel we were able to contribute to the knowledge on the feeding ecology and ecosystem engineering roles of Galapagos tortoises, before elaborating a conceptual model of tortoise movement dynamics driven by environmental conditions and mediated by life history and physiology. To date we have fitted over 100 telemetry tags to Galapagos tortoises from four different species on three islands to elucidate the mechanisms that5 govern movement ecology. Again we are guided by a strong conservation motivation and work in complete collaboration with the Galapagos National park and the Charles Darwin Foundation.

I collaborate with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on a prairie restoration initiative in northwest Missouri at the Dunn Ranch. Our goal is to better understand the interactions among bison, fire and other management techniques on prairie plant community dynamics. We seek to determine optimal abundance of bison to maximize species and habitat heterogeneity (rooted in the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis) in this small (2 x 2 mile) remnant prairie. Finally, I, along with colleagues at the Saint Louis Zoo, initiated a research and community engagement project on movement ecology and health of three-toed box turtles. We were motivated to do so by the dearth of scientific data on this species, its popular appeal, its declining conservation status, the widespread lack of awareness of the turtle conservation crisis, and importantly the growing problem of Nature Deficit Disorder. Moreover, this species offers accessible local research opportunities to improve our understanding of the life history trade-offs in long lived species under anthropogenic change, including relationships between fecundity, survival and movement.

Curriculum Vitae

  • 2017 - present Asssitant Professor, Saint Louis University (Biology) (USA)
  • 2014 Consultant, Conservation International (Ecuador)
  • 2013-present Consultant, Saint Louis Zoo (USA/Ecuador)
  • 2012 Consultant, World Wildlife Fund (Cameroon)
  • 2011-present Associated Scientist, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
  • 2009-2011 Post-Doctoral Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
  • 2009-present Adjunct Scientist, State University of New York (SUNY-ESF) (USA)
  • 2008 Consulting Scientist, University of Oxford (UK)
  • 2007-present Adjunct Scientist, Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center (USA)
  • 2007-present Adjunct Scientist, Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos (Ecuador)
  • 2004-2007 Visiting Scientist, University of Maryland (USA)
  • 2002-2008 Conservation Ecologist, Wildlife Conservation Society (Congo/Gabon)
  • 2002 PhD Ecology, University of Edinburgh. Institute of Cell, Animal, and Population Biology
  • 2001-2002 Visiting Scholar, Columbia University (USA)
  • 1993-2001 Research Fellow, Wildlife Conservation Society (Congo)
  • 1993 MSc Resource Management (awarded with distinction), University of Edinburgh. Institute of Ecology and Resource Management
  • 1990-1992 Assistant Manager, Gorilla Protection Project (Congo)
  • 1990 Intern, Torres Del Paine National Park (Chile)
  • 1987-1990 Gorilla Keeper, Howletts and Port Lympne Foundation (UK)
  • 1987 BSc (Hons) Zoology, University of London (Royal Holloway College). Zoology Department
  • 1981-1982 Apprentice Jockey, Ennis Racing and Stud Ltd. (UK)
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