Montana State University

Ecologist Scott Creel to be first speaker in this year’s Provost’s Distinguished Lecturer Series at MSU

September 12, 2016 -- By Evelyn Boswell for the MSU News Service

Scott Creel will deliver "Predators, Prey and People: Conservation and Ecology of Large Carnivores in Africa and North America,” at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Museum of the Rockies. Creel's lecture is the first of this year's Provost's Distinguished Lecturer Series. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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BOZEMAN — Scott Creel has spent three decades studying lions, wolves and other meat-eating animals in Africa and North America. He is also a 10-time winner of the grueling Ridge Run through the Bridger Mountains near Bozeman.

Is it too surprising, then, that the Montana State University ecologist in the College of Letters and Science’s Department of Ecology and first speaker in this year's Provost's Distinguished Lecturer Series has occasionally tried to outrun a wildebeest to test scientific theory and his own stamina?

"A human running against a wild dog is ludicrous," said Creel, who published the book, "The African Wild Dog: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation," based on his long-term study in Tanzania. Co-author was his research associate and wife, Nancy Marusha Creel.

African wild dogs travel six to nine miles a day and have foot races with their prey, Creel said. Instead of stalking their prey, they run them down. They expend so much energy that they developed large ears and long, slim legs to prevent overheating.

Theories say, however, that even though humans can't keep up with African wild dogs, they might have the endurance to outlast their prey. Wildebeests, for one, should be easier competition since they are bigger and weigh four times more than wild dogs.

"Based on my experiences, those theories are completely wrong," Creel said, laughing.

Creel – whose next goal as an athlete is to break the national record in the master's steeplechase, a race that involves hurdles and water pits – will share in his upcoming lecture other experiences from the bush and some of the more serious lessons he has learned during his career. He will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, on "Predators, Prey and People: Conservation and Ecology of Large Carnivores in Africa and North America." The free public lecture will be held in the Museum of the Rockies’ Hager Auditorium. It will be followed by a reception at 8 p.m.

Creel will describe the career path that began almost 30 years ago when he began his Ph.D. work in Tanzania studying the dwarf mongoose. He will talk about his growing involvement in conservation. His current work with the Zambian Carnivore Programme focuses on the ecology, behavior, physiology and conservation of large carnivores and their prey in three Zambian national parks.

Creel will also share some of his most recent findings. In the past year alone, he has published his research on African lions, African wild dogs, spotted hyenas, leopards and wolves, with habitat loss and prey depletion being common themes.

His latest scientific paper appeared last month in "Ecology," a publication of the Ecological Society of America. Co-authors of "Hunting on a Hot Day: Effects of Temperature on Interactions Between African Wild Dogs and Their Prey," were his wife and their two daughters. Andie is an MSU student majoring in both environmental studies and economics and minoring in computer science. Bridget is a student at the University of Montana, studying biology and ecology.

Carnivores – whether they be wolves in Yellowstone National Park or lions in Kenya – have been the common denominator in all his research, Creel said. At the top of the food web or ecosystems they occupy, carnivores are usually rare, which makes them difficult to conserve. Because they are uncommon and require lots of energy, they tend to provoke strong emotions.

"Despite their scarcity, species like the lion and wolf have strong and wide-reaching effects on the landscapes they inhabit, and they play an outsized role – both positive and negative – in people's view of nature," Creel said.

Based on his field studies in Africa and North America, Creel will explain the complicated ways in which predators affect their prey and the ways that human activities affect large carnivores.

A teacher as well as researcher, Creel said he enjoys preparing the next generation of scientists. He figures he has taught thousands of MSU undergraduates since he came to MSU 18 years ago. He has taught classes in ecology, conservation biology and animal physiology. He has worked with students on research involving kit foxes, wolves, elk, black and grizzly bears, cougars, striped and spotted hyenas, African wild dogs, lions, leopards and cheetahs.

Creel currently supervises two graduate students, and he has trained 17 graduate students who have gone on to such positions as senior ecologist at the Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife and bear biologist in Yellowstone National Park.

"We always hope our research has an impact on the world, but the real way to achieve that is through all the people we taught," Creel said. "There is a huge multiplier effect."

The Provost's Distinguished Lecturer Series recognizes outstanding MSU faculty for their scholarship and leadership. Five more professors after Creel will give lectures this academic year. The next will be Regina Gee on Oct. 18. She is part of an interdisciplinary research project involving an ancient Roman villa buried by the same volcano that destroyed Pompeii. She is one of three curators of the Museum of the Rockies exhibit, "Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis.”

Contact: Scott Creel, (406) 994-7033 or screel@montana.edu

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