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Nyhus research projects

My interdisciplinary research bridges the natural and social sciences to address human interactions with the environment. I am particularly interested in human-wildlife conflict and endangered species conservation. My current research addresses tiger and large mammal conservation in Asia and the United States. I have published over 20 scholarly articles and book chapters and am currently co-editing Tigers of the World: The Biology, Politics and Conservation of Panthera tigris.

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South China Tiger Conservation

The South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is the most critically endangered of the existing recognized tiger subspecies and is one of the world’s most imperiled large carnivores. All that is left of this subspecies is approximately 70 tigers, all except three in Chinese zoos. Since 2001 I have been involved with the South China Tiger Office (formerly South China Tiger Protection Program), a collaboration among the National Wildlife Research And Development Center of the State Forestry Administration (SFA) of the People’s Republic of China, the Minnesota Zoo, with support from Colby College. In 2005, SFA appointed the South China Tiger Advisory Office to provide technical and financial support for the Government of China’s long-term efforts to restore tigers to wilderness areas. Over the next few years, this collaboration will include activities such as recovery site suitability studies, habitat linkage analysis, GIS-based tiger recovery zone modeling, habitat/prey restoration studies and implementation, sociological assessments, threats analysis, habitat protection and anti-poaching training, transfer of knowledge and technology, awareness campaign and a community- based approach to secure a future for the South China tiger in the wild. Several Colby Environmental Studies students have helped to prepare satellite imagery and GIS maps for this project.

Sample scholarship related to the South China tiger project:

Breitenmoser, U., R. Tilson, and P. Nyhus. (2006). Reintroduction of the Chinese Tiger. Cat News 44:15.

Tilson, R., Defu, H., Muntifering, J. & Nyhus, P. J. (2004). Dramatic decline of wild South China tigers: Field survey of priority tiger reserves. Oryx, 38, 40-47.

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Biocomplexity and “Meta-models”

Since 2001 I have collaborated with the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and a diverse group of researchers to develop new tools to explore the human dimension of endangered species conservation and policy that came out of my involvement as the principal investigator on a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Biocomplexity in the Environment initiative. This research group is interested in bringing together a specialists in the natural and social sciences in order to promote efforts to enhance risk assessment models that explicitly incorporate quantitative data on human population dynamics and associated processes.

A central theme of our research focused on (i) the difficulties often encountered in identifying and securing diverse bodies of expertise and information that is necessary to adequately address complex species conservation issues; and (ii) the development of quantitative simulation modeling tools that could explicitly link these datasets as a way to gain deeper insight into these issues. To address these challenges, we are exploring a “meta-modeling” approach where computational links are constructed between discipline-specific models already in existence. In this approach, each model can function as a powerful stand-alone program, but interaction between applications is achieved by passing data structures describing the state of the system between programs. A goal of this effort is to improve science-based capabilities for decision making by scientists, natural resource managers, and policy makers addressing environmental problems in general, and focusing on biodiversity risk assessment in particular.

Sample scholarship related to the biocomplexity project:

Nyhus, P. J., Williams, J., Borovansky, J., Byers, O. & Miller, P. (2003). Incorporating local knowledge into population and habitat viability assessments: Landowners and tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea. In Experiments in Consilience: Integrating Social and Scientific Responses to Save Endangered Species (eds F. Westley & P. Miller), pp. 161-184. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Nyhus, P. J., Westley, F. R., Lacey, R. C. & Miller, P. S. (2002). A role for natural resource social science in biodiversity risk assessment. Society and Natural Resources, 15, 923-932.

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Large Carnivores in Maine

Some of the largest remaining blocks of contiguous forest—and thus potential large carnivore habitat—east of the Mississippi River occur in Maine. Large carnivores were once widespread in the eastern forests of North America, but habitat reduction and modification coupled with intensive harvest of carnivores and their prey resulted in a rapid depopulation of carnivores in the Northeast. I am working with students and collaborating with Professor Russ Cole to better understand the history and potential future of large carnivores in Maine, with a particular focus on wolves and human-wildlife conflict.

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Human-wildlife conflict

I am involved in several areas of research related to human-wildlife conflict. I have studied tiger-human conflict in Indonesia, examined human injuries and deaths from captive tigers (including those in private ownership), and explored the benefits and challenges of compensation schemes for supporting wildlife conservation.

Sample scholarship related to my human-wildlife conflict projects:

Nyhus, P. J., Osofsky, S.A., Ferraro, P., Fischer, H. & Madden, F. (2005). Bearing the costs of human-wildlife conflict: The challenges of compensation schemes. In People and Wildlife: Conflict or Coexistence? (eds R. Woodroffe, S. Thirgood & A. Rabinowitz), pp. 107-121. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K

Nyhus, P. J. & Tilson, R. (2004). Characterizing tiger-human conflict in Sumatra, Indonesia: Implications for conservation. Oryx, 38, 68-74.

Nyhus, P. J. & Tilson, R. (2004). Agroforestry, elephants, and tigers: Balancing conservation theory and practice in human-dominated landscapes of Southeast Asia. Agroforestry, Ecosystems, and the Environment.

Nyhus, P. J., Fisher, H., Madden, F. & Osofsky, S. (2003). Taking the bite out of wildlife damage: The challenges of wildlife compensation schemes. Conservation in Practice, 4, 37-40.

Nyhus, P. J., Tilson, R. L. & Tomlinson, J. L. (2003). Dangerous animals in captivity: Ex situ tiger conflict and implication for private ownership of exotic animals. Zoo Biology, 22, 573 - 586.

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Other projects

I and my students are involved in a wide range of other projects as well. I am involved in developing approaches to link teaching and research. I am involved with a variety of civic engagement and service projects with students through course activities and internships (e.g., recently a student developed maps showing the impact of sea level rise on the coast of Maine, which was picked up by several newspapers, and another student developed maps for a local land trust). I have collaborated on projects related to the livestock-human-animal interface in Africa. Feel free to contact me if you have an interest in learning more about these and other projects.

Sample scholarship related to my teaching and other projects:

Nyhus, P. J., Cole, F. R. & Firmage, D. H. (2007). Tigers, Wolves, and Moose, Oh My: Challenges and Opportunities for Promoting Undergraduate Research in Environmental Studies with GIS. CUR Quarterly, Spring (in press).

Nyhus, P. J., F. R. Cole, D. H. Firmage, D. Tierney, S. W. Cole, R. B. Phillips, and E. H. Yeterian. (2007). Environmental Studies: Interdisciplinary Research on Maine Lakes. In Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping Across the Curriculum. (eds. D. Sinton and J. Lund), pp. 187-198. ESRI Press, Redlands, CA.

Osofsky, S.A., Cleaveland, S., Karesh, W.B., Kock, M.D., Nyhus, P.J., Starr, L. and Yang, A. (Eds). (2005). Conservation and Development Interventions at the Wildlife/Livestock Interface: Implications for Wildlife, Livestock and Human Health. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Click here to download book as pdf.

Nyhus, P. J., Cole, F. R., Firmage, D. H. & Lehmann, P. S. (2002). Enhancing education through research in the environmental science laboratory: Integrating GIS and project-based learning at Colby college. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, September, 34-40.

Nyhus, P. J., Cole, F. R., Firmage, D. H. & Yeterian, E. H. (2002). Developing and implementing an interdisciplinary undergraduate research symposium at a small liberal arts college. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, September, 16-23

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Email Philip
Philip Nyhus, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Environmental Studies Program, Colby College 5358 Mayflower Hill, Waterville, Maine, 04901 USA
T: 207-859-5358; F: 207-859-5229; Email: pjnyhus@colby.edu
Last Modified: June 10, 2009