BGC Member Spotlight: Scott Yanco

November 24, 2021

Background: Scott is an animal ecologist broadly focused on the causes and consequences of animal movements. His research interests trace back to his childhood passion for the outdoors and, in particular, birding. During his undergrad, Scott studied biology at Colorado College. While there, Scott joined Dr. Brian Linkhart’s lab studying long-term demography and behavior in the reclusive Flammulated Owl. After college, Scott spent many years as an environmental consultant, including founding and running a small consulting firm. During this time, Scott remained involved in the Flammulated Owl project, eventually starting a PhD program wherein his primary research revolved around the movement ecology of the species. Scott earned his PhD in Integrative and Systems Biology from the University of Colorado Denver where he studied with Dr. Michael Wunder. Scott joined the BGC in the spring of 2021.

Research: Scott’s research leverages multiple approaches to explore the ultimate causes and consequences of adaptive strategies to accommodate seasonality with a particular focus on migration. Scott’s dissertation research took an eco-evolutionary perspective on these organismal responses to seasonality. All organisms are forced to make tradeoffs in how they allocate their time and energy: some invest heavily in their own survival, aiming for multiple minimal reproductive attempts, whereas others live a short time but produce many offspring. Scott’s research suggests that the strength of seasonality can shape fundamental aspects of species’ life histories. For example, one component of Scott’s work suggests that highly seasonal environments push organisms towards the short-lived strategy, but less seasonal environments, like the tropics, may permit a wider range of strategies. Scott’s research also suggests that many migratory taxa may use migration as a means to dampen seasonal resource fluctuation which may, in turn, modify the set of strategies available to them.

At the BGC Center: Scott is a Postdoctoral Associate with the BGC, leads the Movement Ecology team, and is supported by the Max Planck - Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change.  Scott’s current work seeks to expand on the questions explored in his dissertation research. Scott’s primary project draws on large animal movement datasets using cutting edge biologging technology to improve our understanding of the environmental conditions experienced by individuals throughout their lives and how these experiences scale to population-level phenomena. Scott is also collaborating with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior to investigate the links between migratory strategy, metabolism, and life history. Other key projects in which Scott is involved include: investigating whether and how the COVID-19 lockdowns modified animal movement patterns, building machine learning tools to improve our understanding of animal movement strategies, and assisting with the development of a “digital museum” of individual animal lives.