NC State
The Larson Lab

Natural resource management requires integrative thinking and problem-solving that synthesizes both ecological and social components (i.e., human dimensions). In this line of inquiry, we use social science research theories and methods to examine key environmental issues affecting natural and human communities around the world. Our conservation-oriented research is designed to help land managers and policy-makers develop sustainable solutions to environmental problems by incorporating diverse stakeholders’ attitudes, preferences, and behaviors into decision making processes. These natural resource management projects include studies of:

  • Community-based conservation
  • Ecotourism and sustainable development
  • Human responses to global environmental change
  • Human-wildlife interactions
  • Local environmental resource governance

Lab projects related to this research theme are highlighted below. Be sure to check out the papers and presentations pages for more details about each study.


Current/Ongoing Projects

Managing & Mitigating Human-Carnivore Conflict

Project Partners & Dates: TBD (2015-present)

Expanding human population and development has exacerbated competition for land, prey, and ecological dominance, inevitably producing conflict between humans and large carnivore species. For decades, researchers have worked to understand the sources of this conflict and identify potential mitigation strategies. Management interventions have achieved limited success, however, and most large carnivore populations continue to decline as agonistic interactions escalate. Our lab group is working to identify sources of conflict between humans and Panthera spp. (big cats) to identify effective interventions for addressing human-wildlife conflict. In Kenya, we are attempting to utilize this knowledge to develop a Social Suitability Index for conservation efforts around the Maasai Mara Reserve.  In India, we are are investigating diverse stakeholders’ perceptions of and support for conservation and wildlife tourism around tiger reserves, as well as the complex relationship between tourism and biodiversity conservation.

Hunter Recruitment & Retention

Project Partners & Dates: SC DNR; NY DEC (2013-present)

We are working with colleagues at multiple universities and wildlife management agencies in multiple states (NY and SC) to explore factors contributing to declining hunting participation and identify best practices for recruiting new hunters from non-traditional hunting backgrounds. We are particularly interested in characterizing the “social habitat” for hunting among diverse populations of youth and young adults, with an emphasis on college students.

Building Local Capacity for Environmental Governance

Project Partners & Dates: NY DEC; Cornell Community & Regional Development Institute (2012-present)

Governments face an array of challenges related to environmental conservation, and these challenges vary widely in type, scope, and rate of change. Working with researchers at Cornell University’s Human Dimensions Research Unit and Community and Regional Development Institute, we are examining factors that influence the capacity of local governments to manage natural resources in the face of change. Using interviews and survey methods, we are exploring emerging environmental issues around NY state (e.g. hydrofracking in the Southern Tier, climate change in the Adirondacks, open space development in the Hudson Valley) and attempting to understand how local governments mobilize resources to address these conservation concerns.

Social Drivers & Ecological Impacts of Urban Bird Feeding

Project Partners & Dates: University of Georgia; Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (2013-present)

Many urban residents enjoy feeding birds, but this supplemental feeding behavior often results in high-density avian congregations and potentially negative ecological consequences. To explore the motivations behind the activity, assess the extent of the practice, and evaluate ecological impacts (both real and perceived) associated with urban bird feeding, Dr. Larson is working with a University of Georgia team to conduct a case study of peoples’ participation in and perceptions of supplemental feeding behavior in urban parks across south Florida. The assessment, which began in 2013, is being conducted in conjunction with a related study on white ibis health and disease risks in the region. Together, these concurrent projects should help to inform the management of urban bird populations and the humans who interact with them.


Past/Completed Projects

Protected Area Management in Sierra Leone

Project Partners & Dates: Multiple international partners including IUCN and Conservation International (2008-2013)

Dr. Larson served as part of a University of Georgia team studying multiple aspects of pygmy hippopotamus conservation around a protected area (Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary) in Sierra Leone, Africa. The human dimensions portion of the project explored the nature of human-wildlife interactions around the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, including local attitudes towards protected area management. We also examined the effects of education and training programs on the attitudes of local villagers, with the ultimate goal of building the capacity for sustainable community-based conservation.

Citizen Scientists’ Attitudes Toward Invasive House Sparrows

Project Partners & Dates: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; City University of New York (2013-2015)

House sparrows, a non-native bird exempt from federal, state, and local protection, are a major threat to nesting passerines in the U.S. Participants engaged in citizen science bird nest monitoring projects throughout the country (e.g., the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch program) are aware of and concerned about house sparrow encroachment, and many groups have developed explicit recommendations for managing sparrow populations and mitigating threats to native nesters such as bluebirds (e.g., http://www.sialis.org/hosp.html). In this study, we examined the overall effectiveness of current management strategies and the impacts of the citizen science programs on the beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and subsequent behaviors of NestWatch participants with respect to house sparrows and sparrow management.

Public Attitudes Toward Invasive Species Management

Project Partners & Dates: National Park Service (2009-2011)

Dr. Larson worked with colleagues at the University of Georgia in a partnership with the National Park Service to assess visitor attitudes toward and preferences for invasive species control at Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS), GA. In addition to yielding new information regarding public perceptions of non-native pests at CUIS, the research provided an analytical framework for evaluating stakeholder preferences, minimizing potential conflict, and maximizing socially acceptable and ecologically beneficial outcomes to educate park visitors and inform invasive species management on a much larger scale.

Sustainable Tourism at Machu Picchu, Peru

Project Partners & Dates: None (2009-2011)

During three years of graduate school, Dr. Larson used primary and secondary sources to conduct a thorough review of the complex environmental, social, and economic challenges facing managers of the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The research resulted in the development of an adaptive management framework that could be used to support sustainable tourism efforts at the world-famous destination and other areas facing similar threats.


Other Past Projects Linked to the Lab

Visitor Perceptions of Climate Change in a National Park

From 2010-2012, Dr. Larson collaborated with colleagues at the National Park Service and Clemson University to assess general attitudes toward climate change and the perceived importance and vulnerability of climate-sensitive resources within Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The team hopes to expand this research framework to explore social and environmental impacts of climate change in other U.S. national parks.

Red Wolf Recovery in Eastern North Carolina

During summer 2004, Dr. Larson served as a Red Wolf Outreach Intern, working closely with the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service to assist with fundraising, outreach, and research efforts related to red wolf (Canis rufus) recovery in eastern NC.

Coyote Behavior and Ecology

For several months in 2004, Dr. Larson worked as a field technician on the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center’s long-term study of coyote (Canis latrans) behavior, ecology, and population dynamics in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. The project included field observations, radio telemetry, GIS mapping, and a variety of other research techniques designed to investigate predator-prey dynamics across spatial and temporal scales.

Macaw Behavior, Reproduction, & Response to Tourism Activities

For several months in 2003 Dr. Larson worked on the Tambopata Macaw Project, a long term study of the ecology and conservation of macaws and parrots in the Amazon basin of Peru. The study included many different components designed to assess the effects of human activity and land use change on bird populations and behaviors and involved multiple data collection methods such as nest-climbing, chick nurturing, clay-lick observations, and bird census counts.

Effects of Human Activity on Brown Bear Feeding & Habitat Use

For several months in 2003, Dr. Larson worked on the Chilkoot Bear Project, which evolved as a collaborative effort to address resource management issues in Alaska’s Chilkoot River Corridor – eventually leading to the creation of the Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation. Data collection on the project involved monitoring of brown bear (Ursus arctos) habitat use patterns and bear-human interactions along the popular salmon river.

Development of Foraging Behavior in Prosimian Primates

As an undergraduate at Duke University from 2002-2003, Dr. Larson used the Duke Lemur Center to conduct an independent study investigating the functional utility of two distinct prosimian primate life history strategies. The study involved an examination of the juvenile period duration and the development of complex foraging skills among two species, the ringtail lemur and the aye-aye.