Population/Community Ecology, Conservation Biology

Gary Belovsky

e-mail labpage

Martin J. Gillen Director of UNDERC
M.F.S., Yale University
Ph.D., Harvard University
Postdoctoral, Harvard Society of Fellows and University of Washington


I have studied a variety of animals and habitats: mammals, birds, grasshoppers, spiders and brine shrimp in grasslands (Montana), desert shrubland (Australia), boreal forest (Michigan), rainforest (Puerto Rico), tundra (Alaska) and saline lakes (Utah). Results have furthered conservation and sustainable harvesting.

Belovsky picture, bison range

National Bison Range and some of its inhabitants, herbivores from grasshoppers to bison and predators from birds to mountain lions.

My students and I have been conducting long-term studies in grasslands at the National Bison Range in Montana (since 1978 - 35 years) and at Great Salt Lake in Utah (since 1995 - 19 years). Newer projects are in Puerto Rican rainforest and in forests at the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (Michigan).

My research philosophy has several major themes. First, I construct theories and test them by conducting observational and experimental field studies. Second, I apply a reductionist approach to understand higher level processes, e.g., can community ecology be understood by population processes and can population processes in turn be understood by behavioral/physiological processes. Finally, I attempt to employ my studies of ecological principles to address applied problems (e.g., conservation) and provide insights in other disciplines (e.g., anthropology/archeology).

Belovsky picture, great salt lake

Great Salt Lake and some of its inhabitants
Brine shrimp and the birds that consume them.

I have particularly focused on foraging theory as it relates to population dynamics, interspecific competition, predator-prey dynamics and nutrient cycling in ecosystems. In these studies, herbivores as large as bison and moose and as small as grasshoppers and brine shrimp have been employed. In turn, predators as large as mountain lions and as small as birds and spiders are studied. With this diversity of herbivores and predators, ecological patterns related to body mass have been explored. Findings from these studies have been applied to examine population viability for conservation, pest control programs of herbivores that may be reducing nutrient cycling and thereby, plant production in ecosystems, and prehistoric human hunter-gatherers and how they influenced their environment.

Belovsky picture, rain forest

Puerto Rican Rainforest

The combination of fieldwork and theory in ecology is not only intellectually challenging and addresses issues that are relevant to society; it is also great fun.

Belovsky picture, UNDERC

University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC)
8000 pristine acres in Michigan/Wisconsin










Selected Recent and Often Cited Publications:

Perschon, Clay, G.E. Belovsky, David Naftz, Robert Baskin, John Luft, Chad Larson, Chad Mellison, Heidi Mahon, James Van Leeuwen, Paul Birdsey, Don Paul, and Ryan Mosley.  2014. The Great Salt Lake Ecosystem (Utah, USA): long term data and a structural equation approach: Reply.  Ecosphere 5:art37.

Larson, C.A. and G.E. Belovsky. 2013.  Salinity and nutrients influence species richness and evenness of phytoplankton communities in microcosm experiments from Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA.  Journal of Plankton Research 35(5): 1154-1166.  First published online June 4, 2013 doi:10.1093/plankt/fbt053

Kistner, E.J., and G.E. Belovsky.  2013.  Susceptibility to Disease Across Developmental Stages: Examining the Effects of an Entomopathogen on a Grasshopper (Orthoptera: Acrididae) Pest.  Journal of Orthoptera Research 22(2):73-77.  doi:

Crowl, T.A., N. Brokaw, R.B. Waide, G. Gonzalez, K. Beard, E. Greathouse, A.E. Lugo, A.P. Covich, D.J. Lodge, C. Pringle, J. Thompson, and G.E. Belovsky. 2012.   When and where biota matter:  Linking disturbance regimes, species characteristics and dynamics of communities and ecosystems.  44 pages.  In: N. Brokaw, T. Crowl, A. Lugo, W. McDowell, F. Scatena, R. Waide, and M. Willig (eds.),  A Caribbean Forest Tapestry:  The Multidimensional Nature of Disturbance and Response.  Oxford University Press.

Gary E. Belovsky, Doyle Stephens, Clay Perschon, Paul Birdsey, Don Paul, David Naftz, Robert Baskin, Chad Larson, Chad Mellison, John Luft, Ryan Mosley, Heidi Mahon, James Van Leeuwen, and David V. Allen. 2011. The Great Salt Lake Ecosystem (Utah, USA): long term data and a structural equation approach. Ecosphere 2:art33.  Supplement: Monthly data for the 13 years of our study is summarized in the Results section of the main text. Ecological Archives C002-005-S1.

G.E. Belovsky, D. Stephens, C. Perschon, P. Birdsey, D. Paul, D. Naftz, R. Baskin, C. Larson, C. Mellison, J. Luft, R. Mosley, H. Mahon, J. Van Leeuwen, and D.V. Allen.  2011.  The Great Salt Lake Ecosystem (Utah, USA): long term data and a structural equation approach. Ecosphere 2(3):art33. doi:10.1890/ES10-00091.1.

G.E. Belovsky, A.N. Laws, and J. B. Slade.  2011.  Prey change behaviour with predation threat, but demographic effects vary with prey density:  experiments with grasshoppers and birds.  Ecology Letters 14(4):  335-440.

G.E. Belovsky and J. B. Slade.  2010.  Observations on non-additive predation:  birds and grasshoppers.  Evolutionary Ecology Research 12: 739-749.

Lugo, W. McDowell, F. Scatena, R. Waide, and M. Willig (eds.),  A Caribbean Forest Tapestry:  The Multidimensional Nature of Disturbance and Response.  Oxford University Press.

Laws, A.N., and G.E. Belovsky. 2010. How will species respond to climate change? Examining the effects of temperature and population density on an herbivorous insect. Environmental Entomology 39(2):312-319.

Belovsky, G. E. 2009. An Optimal Foraging-Based Model of Hunter-Gatherer Population Dynamics. Pages 85-103. In: J.M. Broughton and M.C. Cannon (eds.), Evolutionary Ecology and Archaeology: Applications to Problems in Human Evolution and Prehistory. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT.

Crowl, T.A., T.O. Crist, R.R. Parmenter, G.E. Belovsky, and A.E. Lugo. 2008. The spread of invasive species and infectious disease as drivers of ecosystem change in an increasingly connected world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6(5):238-246.

Belovsky, G.E. 2006. Judeo-Christian perceptions of nature and its variability: a foundation for environmental awareness? Pp. 148-175. In: David M. Lodge and Christopher Hamlin (eds.), Religion and the New Ecology. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN. 325pp.

Belovsky, G.E., D.B. Botkin, T.A. Crowl, K.W. Cummins, J.F. Franklin, M.L. Hunter, Jr., A. Joern, D.B. Lindenmayer, J.A. MacMahon, C.R. Margules, and J.M. Scott. 2004. Ten suggestions to strengthen the science of ecology. BioScience 54(4) 345-351.

Belovsky, G.E., Slade, J.B. 2002. An ecosystem perspective on grasshopper control: possible advantages to no treatment. Journal of Orthoptera Research 11:29-35.

Belovsky, G.E., Mellison, C., Larson, C., and Van Zandt, P.A. 2002. How good are PVA models? Testing their predictions with experimental data on the brine shrimp. Pp. 257-283. In: S. R. Beissinger and D. R. McCullough (eds.), Population Viability Analysis.  University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Belovsky, G.E. 2002. Ecological stability: Reality, misconceptions and implications for risk assessment. Health and Ecological Risk Assessment 8:99-108.

Bowyer, R. Terry, McCullough, Dale R., and Belovsky, Gary E. 2001. Causes and consequences of sociality in mule deer. Alces 37(2):371-402.

Belovsky, G.E., and J.B. Slade. 2000. Insect herbivory accelerates nutrient cycling and increases plant production. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sciences. 97(26):14412-14417.

Belovsky, G.E., C. Mellison, C. Larson, and P.A. Van Zandt. 1999. Experimental studies of extinction dynamics. Science 286:1175-1177.

Belovsky, G.E., Fryxell, J., and Schmitz, O. J. 1999. Natural selection and herbivore nutrition: optimal foraging theory and what it tells us about the structure of ecological communities. Pp. 1-70. In: Nutritional Ecology of Herbivores: Proceedings of the Vth International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores (H.-J. G. Jung and G. C. Fahey, Jr., Eds.) American Society of Animal Science, Savoy, IL. 836 pp.

Belovsky, G.E. 1997. Optimal foraging and community structure: the allometry of herbivore food selection and competition. Evolutionary Ecology 11:641-672.

Belovsky, G.E., J.B. Slade, and J.M. Chase. 1996. Mating strategies based on foraging ability: an experiment with grasshoppers. Behavioral Ecology 7:438-444.

Belovsky, G. E., and A. Joern. 1995. The dominance of different regulating factors for rangeland grasshoppers. Pages 359-386. In: Population Dynamics: New Approaches and Synthesis (N. Cappuccino and P. Price, eds.), Academic Press, New York.

Belovsky, G.E., and J.B. Slade. 1995. Dynamics of some Montana grasshopper populations: relationships among weather, food abundance and intraspecific competition. Oecologia 101:383-396.

Belovsky, G. E., and O.J. Schmitz. 1994. Plant defenses and optimal foraging by mammalian herbivores. J. Mamm. 75(4):816-832.

Chase, J. M., and G.E. Belovsky. 1994. Experimental evidence for the included niche. Amer. Nat. 143:514-527.

Belovsky, G.E., J.A. Bissonette, R.D. Dueser, T.C. Edwards, Jr., C.M. Luecke, M.E. Ritchie, J.B. Slade, and F.H. Wagner. 1994. Management of small populations: concepts affecting the recovery of endangered species. Wildlife Society Bulletin 22(2):307-316.

Belovsky, G.E., and J.B. Slade. 1993. The role of vertebrate and invertebrate predators in a grasshopper community. Oikos 68:193-201.

Belovsky, G.E., O.J. Schmitz, J.B. Slade, and T.J. Dawson. 1991. Effects of spines and thorns on Australian arid zone herbivores of different body masses. Oecologia (Berlin) 88:521-528.

Belovsky, G.E. 1988. An optimal foraging-based model of population growth in hunter-gatherers. J. Anthro. Arch. 7(4):329-372.

Belovsky, G.E. 1987. Extinction models and mammalian persistence. In: Soule, M. (ed.), Viable Population for Conservation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England. Chapter 3, pp. 35-57.

Belovsky, G.E. 1986. Generalist herbivore foraging and its role in competitive interactions. Amer. Zool. 25:51-69.

Belovsky, G.E. 1986. Optimal foraging and community structure: implications for a guild of generalist grassland herbivores. Oecologia (Berlin) 70:35-52.

Belovsky, G.E. 1984. Snowshoe hare optimal foraging and its implications for population dynamics. Theor. Pop. Biol. 25(3):235-264.

Belovsky, G.E. 1978. Diet optimization in a generalist herbivore: the moose. Theor. Pop. Biol. 14(1):105-134.