Meet Justin Duke
Written by Sue McMurray
As a future wildlife biologist, Justin Duke knows just how important hands-on experience is to potential employers. Over the summer, Duke served as crew leader and wildlife biology mentor on a field crew engaged in pygmy rabbit research being conducted by wildlife Associate Professor Janet Rachlow.
After a week of training in Montana, he and Aaron Vincent, wildlife freshman, spent three months near Leadore, Idaho, conducting experiments on radio-collared pygmy rabbits. Their research assessed the animals’ perceptions of predation risk by evaluating how rabbits choose cover. Additionally, the crew used motion-sensing cameras to identify how much safety the animals were willing to forfeit in order to obtain food that the team had planted near active burrows.
The results from this ongoing research will help scientists determine if and how the pygmy rabbit population is being affected by changing habitat in the western states. Results also will help land managers determine when and how to restore sagebrush habitats for rabbits.
“I wanted to get more involved with wildlife in the western part of the country, and I chose the University of Idaho for its involvement in world-wide research,” says Duke. “Working with Dr. Rachlow was a great experience. I was able to gain tips on the field of wildlife, and she shared some stories of her own experience developing a career in wildlife.”
Duke says in the next five years, he would like to complete a master’s degree and become a wildlife biologist in Alaska, focusing on diseases related to mammals living in arctic environments.