Cole Burton

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Ecology and Quality of the Environment
Ecological Trends
Biodiversity and Biocomplexity
Landscape and Restoration
Environment Management and Protection
Biodiversity conservation
Ecological Monitoring
Landscape ecology
Mammal Ecology
Population and Community Ecology
Wildlife Management

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Research Methodology

Remote camera sensors (camera traps)
Satellite telemetry collars
Bayesian hierarchical modelling


Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows

Terrestrial mammal conservation; wildlife population and community modelling; animal movement simulation; cumulative environmental impact assessment; adaptive management; human-wildlife coexistence; biodiversity trends

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).
I am interested in hiring Co-op students for research placements.

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Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


Apparently it's Supervisor Appreciation Week at #UBC, and these two #GreatSupervisors just published a key paper on community-wide impacts on mammals in the oil sands. Congrats @cole_burton and @JasonTFisherLab!!!


Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2021)
Of mice and moose: small and large mammal responses to a gradient of forest harvesting intensities across interior British Columbia (2021)

British Columbia’s interior forests have been heavily logged, burnt and subject to beetle outbreaks for decades. The compounding effects of these disturbances on wildlife and their habitat must be considered. Partial retention forest harvesting may be a method that could mitigate some of the negative effects of clearcut harvesting on wildlife. However, tests of the effects of partial harvests on ecosystem patterns and processes in different contexts are needed. From December 2018 and June 2020, we conducted live trapping for small mammals and camera trapping for medium-to-large-bodied mammals to estimate species diversity, population density, habitat use, and behaviours across different forest harvesting practices across a 900 km gradient in John Prince Research Forest, Alex Fraser Research Forest, and Jaffray (east Kootenays), BC. We detected 7 small mammal species, with diversity highest in the control (mean Shannon Index = 1.01, SE = 0.14) and partial retention treatments (means = 0.99, 0.98; SE = 0.17, 0.17) and significantly lower in the seed tree treatment (mean = 0.63, standard error = 0.17, p-value = 0.02). Population densities of North American deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) and Southern red-backed vole (Myodes gapperi) estimated with spatially explicit capture-recapture models highlight the importance of partial harvest practices that maintain sufficient cover to support a higher diversity of small mammals and higher densities of forest specialists. Our medium- to large-bodied mammal diversity analysis suggests that the regional environmental context had a stronger effect on mammal communities than local-scale differences in harvesting practices. Vegetation productivity measured with normalized difference vegetation index was a more important predictor of habitat use for ungulates than harvest treatment, potentially due to the importance of forage availability. Across both small and large mammals, responses to forest harvesting were variable; several species used partial harvests more than clearcuts. Forest practices should consider broader implementation of partial harvests to provide suitable habitats for a broader range of species. More experimental approaches to forest operations are needed across larger spatial scales, such as adaptive management of forest practices with rigorous wildlife monitoring to ensure ecological objectives are met.

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Assessing the effects of cattle on Andean bear habitat use in a protected area in northern Peru (2020)

The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the largest carnivore in the tropical Andes and is an essential apex predator. Andean bears are vulnerable to extinction, and human-caused disturbances are driving population declines. Although the presence of free-ranging cattle is a major disturbance within protected areas, the effect of cattle on Andean bears is poorly understood. We used camera traps and remotely sensed data to assess the spatial and temporal relationships between cattle and bears in a protected area in northern Peru from 2015 to 2016. We hypothesized that cattle grazing represented a disturbance for Andean bears and predicted that bears would avoid cattle in space and/or time. We further predicted that the effects of cattle would be stronger during the wet season when their abundance and activity was higher. We tested the spatial prediction using generalized linear models, where we expected a negative relationship between the occurrence of cattle and bears. We included other factors potentially influencing bear occurrence in our models, including other measures of anthropogenic disturbance (occurrence of humans and dogs, and proximity to towns and farms) and of natural habitat variation in the refuge (elevation, slope, and forest cover). To test for temporal avoidance, we estimated the degree of overlap between daily activity patterns of bears and cattle. As predicted, we found a negative spatial association between bears and cattle and bears and humans and dogs. Bears were also less likely to occur closer to towns and farms adjacent to the refuge. Overall, bear responses to anthropogenic disturbance were stronger than to natural habitat variation. Surprisingly, the spatial avoidance of cattle by bears was stronger during the dry season. We did not find evidence of temporal avoidance, as there was high overlap between the daily activity patterns of bears and cattle, and between bears and humans and dogs, suggesting the potential for interaction where they do spatially co-occur. Given the threatened status of Andean bears, and the critical role of protected areas in their conservation, we recommend effective management of cattle and associated disturbances to protect and recover populations of this ecologically and culturally important carnivore.

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Planning for coexistence: assessing predictors of human-carnivore conflict on Southern Vancouver Island (2020)

The urban-wildland interface is growing as human development expands, potentially increasing human-wildlife conflict. Conflicts include animals accessing garbage, damaging agricultural crops, or depredating livestock. For mammalian carnivores this often leads to lethal mitigation. Mortality from conflict represents a major threat to carnivores who miscalculate the risk of human-dominated areas. By contrast, carnivores that adapt to these novel anthropogenic environments may facilitate human-wildlife coexistence. Human-carnivore conflict is an increasing issue on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, due to rapidly expanding development and high concentrations of black bears (Ursus americanus) and cougars (Puma concolor). To reduce these conflicts and promote coexistence, it is critical to target proactive mitigations using reliable evidence to distinguish where conflict is probable from where carnivores are adapting to coexist. I modelled relative conflict probability using seven years of reported conflicts and GIS data to investigate which anthropogenic and environmental predictors best explained the spatial and temporal distribution of conflict in Victoria’s Capital Regional District. I found that the probability of conflict for both species increased along the urban-wildland interface, where human disturbance adjoined natural habitat. Black bear conflict also increased in rural areas in autumn before winter denning. I subsequently used a camera trap survey to see when and where bears were active across a gradient of human disturbance and compared bear habitat use to the previously estimated probabilities of conflict. For much of the year, bears used areas of low to medium conflict, such as forests near urban areas, avoided areas of higher human density, and were more nocturnal in urban and rural areas compared to wild. However, in autumn, bears were more active in areas of high conflict probability, specifically rural lands with ripe crops. This suggests that bear behaviour may allow for coexistence in most seasons by spatially and temporally avoiding humans, except in autumn when hyperphagia and peak anthropogenic crop availability increase the risk of human-bear conflict.Overall, I recommend proactive conflict mitigation to secure anthropogenic attractants against multiple carnivore species, and a particular focus on mitigations during seasonal peaks in attractive human food resources.

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Towards human-leopard coexistence in Sri Lanka: Social and ecological dimensions (2020)

A leading cause of large carnivore declines is conflict with humans, specifically due to livestock depredation. This conflict threatens both carnivore populations and human communities with livestock-dependent livelihoods. The expanding dairy industry in Sri Lanka, home to the endangered Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), provides an opportunity for proactive conflict mitigation. Little is known about incidents of livestock depredation or attitudes of pastoralists whose livelihoods may be threatened by leopard conflict. This thesis aimed to combine social and ecological research methods to address these knowledge gaps. We surveyed two pastoralist communities that differed in leopard conflict and socioecological factors (Yala and Central Hills) to identify determinants of attitudes towards leopards. We conducted Exploratory Factor Analysis and ran generalised linear models (GLMs) to detect influential variables. In the higher conflict region (Yala), attitudes towards leopards were positively related to socio-demographics (age, number of dependents, years rearing livestock) and an overall desire for wildlife conservation, while attitudes were negatively related to general awareness of leopard ecology and leopard-related tourism. In the lower conflict region (Central Hills), attitudes were positively related to a desire for increased government assistance in cattle rearing. The inability to own land were common concerns for pastoralists in both regions. We recommend assessing programs that may improve attitudes towards leopards, such as involving pastoralists in tourism programs and restricted land ownership. While the Central Hills is currently not experiencing depredation, proactively addressing hardships (e.g. improving roads, subsidizing cattle feed) may facilitate positive attitudes, should incidents of conflict increase. To investigate potential drivers of cattle depredation in Yala, we used GLMs to test the importance of hypothesised explanatory variables, specifically: native prey availability, cattle husbandry, number of cattle, distance from national park, road density and pastoralist residency time. Model results indicated that depredation frequency increased with the number of cattle and decreased with improved husbandry. Survey responses suggested that stronger cattle enclosures using plastic and light deterrents were husbandry techniques most supported by pastoralists. We recommend testing their efficacy and feasibility. This thesis illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary research to better inform human-carnivore coexistence grounded in the local context.

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