Debra Shier, Ph.D.

Dr. Debra Shier is the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research Brown Endowed Scientist. In this position, she runs a growing local field program on threatened and endangered small mammals.

For the past 15 years she has been studying the ways in which an understanding of animal behavior and behavioral ecology can be applied to conservation strategies such as reintroductions and translocations. In general, all of her research has focused on using basic theory to create effective and efficient relocation methods by encouraging settlement, dampening stress, and increasing post-release survival and reproductive success. Specifically, her research addresses 1) the kinds of learning experiences that are required for the development of effective anti-predator behavior after release into the wild, 2) how social relationships among founders may affect their survival following translocation 3) the effects of scent communication in the translocation process, 4) whether natal habitat preferences can be exploited to enhance release site settlement and 5) the effects of behavioral consistency (temperament) on post-release survival. Her current research examines these questions in two endangered Heteromyids, the Pacific pocket mouse and Stephens’ kangaroo rat.

Debra Shier graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1992, with bachelor’s degree in biopsychology. She moved on to work on a captive breeding program for the critically endangered Morro Bay kangaroo rat at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1994, and in 2001 earned a master’s degree in biology with an emphasis in ecology and systematics from San Francisco State University. After completion of her master’s degree, Dr. Shier entered a graduate degree program at the University of California, Davis, where she earned two degrees (M.S. 2002, Ph.D. 2004) in animal behavior with an emphasis in wildlife conservation. Dr. Shier joined the San Diego Zoo in 2006 as a postdoctoral research fellow in Applied Animal Ecology. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards and has authored or co-authored more than 60 scientific articles, as well as 15 articles for popular magazines. She has given nearly 50 presentations to professional and lay audiences.

Dr. Shier is actively involved in the mentorship of students, locally and internationally, and she serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a member of the IUCN Reintroduction Specialist Group, which serves to provide reintroduction practitioners with tools such as reintroduction guidelines, networking resources, and publications to provide a means for distributing information on reintroduction projects. She is a member of several professional societies including: the Animal Behavior Society, where she serves on the conservation committee and is the associate editor for the committee’s newsletter, the Conservation Behaviorist, the American Society of Mammalogists, the Society for Conservation Biology, and the International Society for Behavioral Ecology.