Anna Kusler

The Wildlife Ecologist
Former Pace University student, Anna Kusler

Anna Kusler ’18 is giving a fierce new meaning to the phrase “cat lady”.

From studying the use of scent-marking trees by cheetahs in the Moremi Game Reserve in Bostwana to investigating the mountain lion’s position in animal hierarchies in the Southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Kusler has dedicated her life and career to protecting threatened wildlife species.

It started at a young age for Kusler, whose mother was a biologist and father an environmental lawyer. But it was as an undergraduate student at Cornell University that she really found her passion for wildlife ecology and conservation. There, Kusler worked with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust to study how cheetahs use scent-marking trees in the Okavango Delta of northern Botswana. 

As an MS in Environmental Science student at Pace, Kusler worked closely with her professor and advisor Melissa Grigione, PhD, with whom she continued her wildlife conservation research on cougars and mountain lions. In 2014, Kusler was awarded a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, the most prestigious grant given to PhD and master’s students in the sciences to support the next generation of scientists.

Through that grant, Kusler has been living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she examines patterns of predation and the use of competition refugia—or safe spaces—by mountain lions in the Southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

While a lot of conservation research focuses on the species’ hunting and eating habits, Kusler’s research, which is being conducted in collaboration with Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project and Pace University, examines the species’ bed sites, crucial to helping scientists understand the kinds of habitats and landscapes mountain lions and other subordinate predators may need in order to make informed conservation and management decisions.

More specifically, Kusler’s research examines the trade-off that mountain lions must balance as subordinate predators. As a top carnivore, mountain lions must have access to food (i.e. prey). However, typically, they are not the top-most predator in their ecosystem, says Kusler. “Bears steal their hard-earned kills and wolves not only steal their food, but also kill mountain lions and their kittens. This means that mountain lions can’t just spend all their time hunting and eating. They must also seek out safe places to sleep,” she says. “My thesis research uses known bed sites as a way to spatially measure mountain lion refugia, and known kill sites as a way to measure high-quality hunting habitat. I then use statistical models to create a landscape-level map that delineates areas of high and low quality refugia habitat and hunting habitat.”

So why is this important? “When many people think about conserving or managing large predators such as mountain lions, they typically focus on their food requirements (i.e. the availability of prey species like deer). Though this is definitely an important consideration, mountain lions must constantly manage a trade-off between finding food and staying safe. Because the best hunting habitats are not necessarily the safest places to sleep, a mountain lion must find a home range that can provide both types of environment,” says Kusler. “We hope that this new research will help scientists, managers, and conservationists to broaden their perspective when considering the kinds of habitats and landscapes mountain lions (and other subordinate predators) may need in order to make the best-possible conservation and management decisions.”

Kusler’s research has appeared in various publications and has also taken her around the world—Botswana, Switzerland, Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Zambia, and Patagonia—and is now leading her to develop a PhD program, where she hopes to study the connectivity and conservation of cheetahs and continue tackling larger-scale conservation problems.

Ultimately, Kusler says she sees herself working in academia and inspiring the next generation of young scientists and conservationists.

Former Pace University student, Anna Kusler

Anna Kusler ’18 is giving a fierce new meaning to the phrase “cat lady”.

From studying the use of scent-marking trees by cheetahs in the Moremi Game Reserve in Bostwana to investigating the mountain lion’s position in animal hierarchies in the Southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Kusler has dedicated her life and career to protecting threatened wildlife species.

It started at a young age for Kusler, whose mother was a biologist and father an environmental lawyer. But it was as an undergraduate student at Cornell University that she really found her passion for wildlife ecology and conservation. There, Kusler worked with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust to study how cheetahs use scent-marking trees in the Okavango Delta of northern Botswana. 

As an MS in Environmental Science student at Pace, Kusler worked closely with her professor and advisor Melissa Grigione, PhD, with whom she continued her wildlife conservation research on cougars and mountain lions. In 2014, Kusler was awarded a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, the most prestigious grant given to PhD and master’s students in the sciences to support the next generation of scientists.

Through that grant, Kusler has been living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she examines patterns of predation and the use of competition refugia—or safe spaces—by mountain lions in the Southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

While a lot of conservation research focuses on the species’ hunting and eating habits, Kusler’s research, which is being conducted in collaboration with Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project and Pace University, examines the species’ bed sites, crucial to helping scientists understand the kinds of habitats and landscapes mountain lions and other subordinate predators may need in order to make informed conservation and management decisions.

More specifically, Kusler’s research examines the trade-off that mountain lions must balance as subordinate predators. As a top carnivore, mountain lions must have access to food (i.e. prey). However, typically, they are not the top-most predator in their ecosystem, says Kusler. “Bears steal their hard-earned kills and wolves not only steal their food, but also kill mountain lions and their kittens. This means that mountain lions can’t just spend all their time hunting and eating. They must also seek out safe places to sleep,” she says. “My thesis research uses known bed sites as a way to spatially measure mountain lion refugia, and known kill sites as a way to measure high-quality hunting habitat. I then use statistical models to create a landscape-level map that delineates areas of high and low quality refugia habitat and hunting habitat.”

So why is this important? “When many people think about conserving or managing large predators such as mountain lions, they typically focus on their food requirements (i.e. the availability of prey species like deer). Though this is definitely an important consideration, mountain lions must constantly manage a trade-off between finding food and staying safe. Because the best hunting habitats are not necessarily the safest places to sleep, a mountain lion must find a home range that can provide both types of environment,” says Kusler. “We hope that this new research will help scientists, managers, and conservationists to broaden their perspective when considering the kinds of habitats and landscapes mountain lions (and other subordinate predators) may need in order to make the best-possible conservation and management decisions.”

Kusler’s research has appeared in various publications and has also taken her around the world—Botswana, Switzerland, Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Zambia, and Patagonia—and is now leading her to develop a PhD program, where she hopes to study the connectivity and conservation of cheetahs and continue tackling larger-scale conservation problems.

Ultimately, Kusler says she sees herself working in academia and inspiring the next generation of young scientists and conservationists.