Dr. Visscher’s research in the Beaver Hills spans a range of topics uncovering how humans shape the behaviour of wolves, elk, porcupine, coyotes, ducks, and other species and how to mitigate any harm.
The broad-spanning research started with a conversation in 2014 with Phil Walker (a senior research student) about naturally recolonizing wolves in the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Grazing, Wildlife, and Provincial Recreation Area. This lead to a partnership with Alberta Environment and Parks to better understand the wolf population in the area as farmers had raised concerns that wolves were killing their livestock. The province agreed to reduce the pack by culling their numbers, but the exact number of wolves in the region was unclear. With Visscher’s research, the data revealed there were far fewer wolves than the farmers had feared, which helped to forestall future culls.
Another area of focus was on scat (feces) collection and examination for one of the world’s most dangerous food-borne parasites identified by the World Health Organization: Echinococcus. With the help of a student researcher, 27 samples of wolf and coyote scat were analyzed via fecal flotation. A specific solution allowed the eggs in the scat to float to the top which were then identified under a microscope. 18% of samples carried the parasite. For humans, the risk could lie in their animal companions; for those who walk their dogs in the area, the dog could pick up the parasite through interaction with the scat and unknowingly pass it on to their owner. The Alberta Conservation Association gave Visscher over $24,000 in 2017 for further research into Echinoccoccus.
Visscher has also partnered with Ducks Unlimited to study the effect of wet spots reintroduced in areas previously drained for farming. Grass samples were gathered to study whether wet spots benefit grazing animals by encouraging moisture to permeate up nearby slopes.