Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Robert McCleery hopes to preserve Earth’s ecological integrity.
His research program focuses on improving people’s understanding of how the way land is used can alter its native animal communities, ultimately impacting human well-being.
“My goal is to conserve wildlife populations and identify how land-use can affect ecosystem services like seed dispersal, a function important to humans,” McCleery said. “I also work to recover endangered species and to maintain diversity by finding ways to assimilate wildlife into agricultural and urbanizing landscapes.”
One way McCleery is approaching the issue of conservation involves learning how agricultural landscapes can exist without compromising an ecosystem’s integrity.
“Agriculture has and will continue to play a dominant role in shaping land-use practices,” McCleery said. “However, there is only a limited understanding of how agricultural landscapes alter biodiversity and ecosystem services.”
Another area that requires more research is the impacts of megaherbivores, or large mammalian herbivores like elephants and rhinos, on animal diversity and ecosystem functions. While elephants are critical to healthy savannas, a spike in their population can negatively impact ecosystem function. Thus, McCleery’s lab is searching for the optimal balance between elephants and their surrounding environments.
His research also tackles problems a little closer to home. McCleery is currently working to identify ways to sustain the southeastern pocket gopher, Sanibel Island rice rat, Sherman’s fox squirrel and other mammal populations in the Everglades that are being decimated by the invasive Burmese python.
“This work has been crucial in helping federal and state officials respond to the trade in endangered snakes and address south Florida’s invasive python issue,” McCleery said.
In the past five years alone, McCleery has published 50 papers in numerous journals. Two of his papers were named as recipients of the UF/IFAS High-Impact Publication award. McCleery has also published an edited book titled Urban Wildlife Conservation and has contracted to write a book on Ecological Research on Small Mammals.
Since 2012, McCleery supports his research program with a diverse grant and contract portfolio, acting as the PI or co-PI on grants exceeding $2 million from a variety of sponsoring agencies, including two National Science Foundation grants. His research has also attracted the interest of mainstream news outlets, such as Good Morning America, BBC and NPR.