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The Mystery of the Missing Martens

Co Authors:

Elizabeth A. Flaherty
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Purdue University

Carolyn A. Eckrich
Department of Zoology and Physiology
University of Wyoming

Merav Ben-David
Department of Zoology and Physiology
University of Wyoming


This interrupted case study introduces basic modeling to investigate a decline in an American marten population on an island in Southeast Alaska. Two summer field technicians working on a long-term field ecology project for one of their professors notice that there are fewer marten captures this year. Through discussions with their professor, conversations with a local fur trapper, and based on their own observations, they develop a plan to model the population and the potential causes of the decline to solve the mystery. Students use Excel or other database software along with life tables and introductory population ecology to investigate three potential causes of the marten population decline. This case was developed for use in an environmental science or wildlife management course but could also be used in an advanced science high school course or general ecology course. It would be beneficial for students to have some background in statistics including how to interpret R-squared values, p-values, and 95% confidence intervals.

  • Define several terms related to ecology, conservation biology, and forestry including age structure, birth rate, fecundity, life table, survival, survivorship, and vital rates.
  • Develop a life table model for estimating and predicting population abundance over time.
  • Describe the effects of potential stressors on the dynamics of animal populations.
  • Develop management suggestions based on results from modeling life tables and by considering habitat-related policy information and wildlife habitat requirements.
  • Learn to enter data, write formulas and compute basic statistics using the spreadsheet software Microsoft Excel.
Keywords: modeling; modelling; martens; population ecology; wildlife biology; data analysis; age structure; birth rate; fecundity; life table; survival; survivorship; vital rates
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF, Excel
Type/Method: Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Ecology   Environmental Science   Forestry   Natural Resource Management   Wildlife Management  
Date Posted: 8/22/2016
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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