Balunek wins Kaufman Research Award from the American Society of Mammalogists

Emma Balunek, an Masters of Applied Science program candidate
Emma Balunek, an Masters of Applied Science program candidate

Emma Balunek was awarded the 2023 Donald W. and Glennis A. Kaufman Research Award for her master’s project on the coyote-badger hunting relationship titled “You Go Over and I Go Under.” Emma is in the Master of Applied Science program in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, working with Platte Basin Timelapse (PBT), Michael Forsberg, and John Benson’s Lab of Predator-Prey Ecology. The Award was established to support field-based ecological research conducted in the grasslands of the Great Plains, focusing on native mammals by graduate student members of the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM).

Coyotes and badgers in western North America sometimes hunt prairie dogs and ground squirrels together using their complementary hunting skills. Specifically, the badger digs up burrowing animals, while the coyote captures prey that flushes above ground and surveys the surrounding area. This collaborative partnership has been documented by Indigenous folk for thousands of years, but little is understood about the behavioral and ecological mechanisms underlying this relationship. This project is formulated specifically to help fill this knowledge gap. The project set up trail/game cameras at multiple sites in Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico to learn more about the different pairs in these areas. The photos collected will document coyote-badger pair occurrences and other wildlife, which will be used to test the research predictions with the goal of contributing to greater understanding of the relationship between these two species – and interspecific cooperation more generally.

Photos and videos inform both the research and aid with her project's storytelling component, which aims to bring attention to the often-overlooked shortgrass prairie. Grasslands are one of the most endangered ecosystems and by catching people’s attention with the intriguing coyote-badger hunting relationship, the project can highlight the other animals and plants that also call the grasslands home.

She is honored and grateful to receive this award to support her project. Emma hopes these efforts will lead to greater understanding and conservation of grassland ecosystems in the Great Plains.

To learn more about her project, see the story map.

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