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Tim Tinker, PhD

Research Wildlife Biologist; Adjunct Prof. of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

US Geological Survey; UC Santa Cruz

Studying the secret life of sea otters: the world's cutest carnivore.  


Most people think of sea otters as cute fuzzy animals that are fun to watch at an Aquarium… but they are more than just another pretty face, did you know they are also ecological superheroes? My research is aimed at understanding how natural ecosystems work. We’ve learned that predators such as sea otters play important roles in making food webs healthy and resilient to threats such as pollution or climate change. Human societies are dependent upon healthy ecosystems in many ways: for food, for recreation, and for clean air and water. Many ecosystems, such as kelp forests and coastal estuaries in California, are vulnerable to threats such as pollution, infectious diseases, ocean warming and acidification. As a research ecologist, my job is to describe the complex interactions between animal and plant species and their environments; to determine how they are affected by various threats; and understand how ecosystems can be managed to be more healthy and resilient. My research focuses especially on how top predators such as sea otters may help ecosystems to function properly, through their food web interactions. I oversee a diverse team of scientists and students, and we conduct field studies of wild sea otter populations at locations from California to Alaska. I also use mathematical models to analyze population dynamics of sea otters and other species, and predict ecosystem changes. I will present some examples of our current research projects, and some of the exciting things we've learned about sea otters and their ecosystem roles.

Meet the Speaker:

Dr. M. Tim Tinker is a Research Wildlife Biologist with the Western Ecological Research Center of the U.S. Geological Survey, and an adjunct Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz. Since 1993 he has been studying sea otter populations in California, Alaska, British Columbia and the Russian Commander Islands. Dr. Tinker is the project leader for federal research on sea otters in California, and currently heads a multiagency study investigating the factors limiting the recovery of this threatened sub-species. He has also studied sea otters and their roles as top predators in near-shore ecosystems throughout the north Pacific. Other related research topics include sea otter foraging ecology, individual behavioral strategies, spatial use and habitat selection, reproductive behavior and mating systems, life history tactics, and the use of population models to inform management and conservation.

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