Walter Piper

As a scientist, I have always been interested in how animals use and acquire space where they live and breed. Since most animals must compete for space with others of their species, my interest has led naturally to study of animal aggression and competition. My PhD focused on how the social rank of a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) in a winter dominance hierarchy affected its local movements and likelihood of survival. I have also investigated aggression and breeding among male stripe-backed wrens (Campylorhynchus nuchalis) in Venezuela. But since 1993, my work has focused on territory defense, habitat selection, and breeding behavior of loons. I am a professor of biology at Chapman University in Orange, California.

In 2019, a thorough analysis of the demography of my Wisconsin loon population revealed alarming declines in the survival rates of chicks and young adults. Faced with the possible disappearance of loons from northern Wisconsin during my lifetime, I have turned my attention to conservation of Wisconsin loons. To that end, I have begun to investigate causes of the Wisconsin decline and also initiated a brand new study population in neighboring Minnesota in 2021. When we are finished with the necessary capture and marking of loons in the Minnesota Study Area (in 2024, we estimate), we will be able to measure adult survival and reproductive success there, as we now do in Wisconsin. We anticipate producing an initial quantitative population model for Minnesota by 2025. At that point, we will know whether Minnesota loons are suffering from the same declines in hatching success and young adult survival that are plaguing loons in Wisconsin. If we can learn what is hampering chick and adult survival in the Upper Midwest, perhaps we can reverse these declines.