Her research also has delved into how the extirpation of apex carnivores, such as gray wolves, has affected the behavior of coyotes, who are mid-level predators. In a study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology
, Harris and her team, using coyote feces in Michigan, found that in areas where grey wolves were not present as top of the food chain predators, coyotes changed what they ate, where they roamed and when they were active.
Harris’s scholarship benefits greatly from public engagement and participation.Her study published in Wildlife Society Bulletin
that looked at the ability of volunteers, including K-12 students, to identify wildlife in Michigan through camera trap surveys, demonstrated that public participation in properly designed research can yield reliable results.
Harris, who grew up in Philadelphia, says her interest in wildlife and ecology was piqued when she traveled to Kenya with the Philadelphia Zoo in ninth grade. During the trip, she saw lionesses teaching their cubs how to hunt prey — killing a gazelle right before her eyes.
“It was exhilarating. It was phenomenal. It was amazing that I got to witness that,’’ says Harris. “Fast forward years later, and I’m developing my own research program called the Applied Wildlife Ecology Lab. The acronym is AWE because I very much want to make sure that the science and research that I am doing helps to create that same wonder that I felt as a teenager. And in my field activities today, I aim to help stimulate and expose underrepresented groups and disenfranchised communities to nature and the environment.”
Harris is the first ESA Early Career Fellow to be named Program Chair of the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, which will be held in Montreal in 2022.
At Yale, Harris will continue her research into human-wildlife interactions.
“There is a need to scrutinize why conflicts are emerging between people and wildlife all over the world — and it’s not just because they are in the same space,’’ says Harris, who has received a Fulbright award to study tigers in India. “A growing dimension of my research is thinking about how we minimize those negative interactions, as positive interactions can be truly transformative for people. What can we do as managers, as scientists, as activists, and as neighbors to make sure that those outcomes are positive instead of negative?”
C. Brandon Ogbunu, assistant professor in Yale’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, says Harris is one of the most exciting researchers in her field.
“She combines a mastery of complicated theoretical ideas in ecology with some cutting-edge and rigorous field ecological methods. Her ideas about large carnivore behavior are very provocative, testable, and are primed to change the way we look at modern problems in conservation,’’ he says.