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Marcella Kelly

146 Cheatham Hall

Associate Department Head for Graduate Affairs & Graduate Program Director

B.S., University of California, Davis (1991) 
Ph.D, University of California, Davis (2000)


My research focuses primarily on carnivore population ecology, management, and conservation. I use emerging and evolving techniques such as camera trapping combined with advances in population modeling to estimate population sizes and densities for elusive, hard-to-track, carnivores; non-invasive genetic sampling and molecular scatology to determine carnivore abundance, growth rates, genetic diversity, and gene flow across fragmented landscapes;  Global Positioning System (GPS) collaring combined with landscape modeling to investigate carnivore habitat selection and fine scale movement across multi-use landscapes; and finally conservation physiology of captive black bears to better understand hibernation/torpor ecology and its potential link to human-wildlife conflict. I work collaboratively with other population modelers, with geneticists, with wildlife conservation physiologists, with veterinarians, with agency biologists, and even with human physiologists to synergize data from multiple sources to advance our knowledge and understanding of large carnivores.


  • Population Dynamics and Estimation
  • Wildlife Field Techniques


  • Parameter Estimation

Long term jaguar monitoring in Belize, Central America

This project uses remote cameras and non-invasive genetics (scat sampling and molecular scatology) to monitor jaguars and other co-occurring felids (cats) across multiple sites in Belize, Central America. The study has many facets including estimating demographic parameters using non-invasive sampling and recent developments in modeling; investigating the impacts of timber extraction on jaguars; habitat associations of predators and prey; assessment of meso-predator release and/or jaguars as umbrella species.

The Virginia Appalachian Coyote Project (VACS) 

This study uses both non-invasive genetics and GPS collaring to understand coyote ecology in an area where they are understudied – the ridge and valley ecotype of the central Appalachians. Coyotes only became established in Virginia in the 1980s, colonizing come from both the north, where coyotes are larger, and from the south, meeting in a convergence zone in Virginia. Combining both types of data, this study investigates coyote spatial ecology, population dynamics, predator diets, deer densities, and the potential impacts to the deer herd of predation by three predators in marginal, low productivity, national forest lands.

Black Bear Research Center (BBRC)

The BBRC houses captive bears (primarily females) for research and management purposes - allowing us the opportunity to study hibernation/torpor ecology. Bears are exceptional in that females can go without eating or drinking for ~3 months and during that time they give birth, they lactate, and they maintain muscle strength and bone mass. Additionally, bears are used to foster cubs whose mothers have died in the wild (lactating females readily accept orphaned cubs), meeting needs of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) to cope with orphaned bear cubs. Bears are all released back into the wild when cubs are large enough to keep up with their mothers.

Other current Projects include:

  • Monitoring of the Madagascar carnivore community via remote camera trapping over 6 years.
  • Investigating functional response in Serengeti cheetahs via monitoring current hunting behavior and collating a long-term data set.
  • Using remote cameras to survey 14 carnivores simultaneously in Botswana.
  • Sumatran tiger ecology, demography, fine-scale space use via non-invasive genetics, camera trapping, and GPS collaring.
  • Monitoring mammals at Mountain Lake Biological Station, VA using remote cameras and through mentoring the undergraduate student chapter of The Wildlife Society.
  • Investigating red wolf and black bear spatial ecology in relation to roads, road ecology, and habitat type in North Carolina.