Derek Spitz / Postdoctoral Research Associate

For many species, fitness is a function of an individual’s ability to match his or her behavior to available conditions. Thus in making decisions that affect their fitness, animals translate the conditions they experience into demographic consequences at the individual and population levels. I’m interested in: 1) exploring the causes and consequences of animal behavior, particularly with regards to movement; 2) using an understanding of the attendant cues, costs and incentives to enhance approaches to studying species distribution and abundance; and 3) applying 1&2 to inform management and conservation actions. These questions surrounding the extent of a species ability to adapt behaviorally to changing conditions are at the heart of understanding population-level vulnerability to anthropogenic change. In the service of these goals I’ve also taken an interest in developing platforms that improve the dissemination and application of important quantitative tools.


My PhD research focused on understanding how partial migration is maintained in federally-endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep, but also included quantifying migratory behavior is several other ungulate systems. As part of this research I wrote the R package “migrateR”, which improves and automates model-driven methods for movement classification (available online at: As the Jack Ward Thomas Postdoctoral Fellow, I now contribute as a member of the Starkey Project. This collaboration extends my interest in ungulate movement ecology to a broader range of spatial and temporal scales, from quantifying the long-term effects of fire history on ungulates to evaluating the fitness consequences of fine-scale strategies for predator avoidance.

Recent Projects