Faculty Spotlight: John Benson

John Benson
John Benson

John Benson wants every kid to know that going outside to study animals is a job. A real, full-time job.

Growing up, he loved exploring nature and wildlife, but he was 26 before he found out he could turn it into a career. Twenty-four hours after the discovery, Benson signed up to earn an undergraduate degree in wildlife.

Now he's an assistant professor with the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and he’s researched everything from moose in Canada to great white sharks in the Pacific Ocean to cougars in Florida.

Born in New York City, Benson moved to many parts of the country throughout his childhood. He majored in history in college and was substitute teaching when he read a story on tiger researchers in National Geographic.

“I wondered who those guys were and thought ‘I’d like to do that',” Benson said.

He immediately pursued his undergrad at Humboldt State University followed by his masters in wildlife ecology at Louisiana State University. There, he reintroduced black bears to the state, then tracked and studied them.

Although he wanted to earn a doctorate, he ended up working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission first studying Florida panthers.

“It was a great mix of field work, analyzing data and writing papers,” he said.

He eventually did pursue his doctorate at Trent University in Canada, where he focused his research on the mechanisms and implications of wolf and coyote hybrids. After graduating, he moved to Alaska, where he worked for the Fish and Game Department, studying moose and their predators, and then went on to Los Angeles, where he researched mountain lion viability within the city. His final stop before coming to SNR in January 2017 was San Francisco, where he studied the great white shark populations in the Pacific Ocean for six months.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to move around forever, but it’s been really interesting to see all these different systems and animals.”

His experience with mountain lions in Los Angeles landed him a job with SNR, an attractive position that gave Benson the opportunity to teach again.

“It’s a really nice mix to teach and do the research,” he said.

­His primary goal now to conduct great research and mentor students to grow and do the research themselves. He currently teaches vertebrate zoology, but will teach mammology starting in fall 2018. He's also working with graduate students researching mule deer behavior and habitat use and bighorn sheep demography in collaboration with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. One month into the mule deer study, Benson hopes to find opportunities for undergrads in that research.

“SNR has provided a community of supportive scholars and given me the opportunity to build my lab and contribute to SNR,” he said.

Learn more about Benson and his latest research here.

Alli Dickey, Natural Resources communications assistant