“A primary aim of ecology is to understand how changes in animal populations reflect individual-level patterns of behaviour, survival, and reproduction. For highly social species, interactions within tight-knit groups can have strong effects on these patterns. I study social-group influences on population change in threatened northern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) in coastal BC. Making use of an exceptional dataset, collected by colleagues at Fisheries and Oceans Canada over more than forty years, I aim to understand some of the links between individual- and group-level processes and population-level changes.
Over the next couple of years, I will analyse data to help us understand social and environmental influences on patterns of birth and death in individual whales. At the same time, I’ll develop new mathematical tools to better understand the associated implications for killer whale populations. For example, how would a population fare differently if it were made up of a few large groups or many smaller groups? The work will offer a new evidence-based perspective on population processes in a highly social species. It will also advance ecological theory by developing a new framework to explore related processes in other social species. Using this framework, I will explore previously overlooked features of population dynamics in southern resident killer whales – a well-known population of critical conservation concern – using insights from the less disturbed northern-resident population.” – Andrew Bateman