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Mario Pesendorfer

Research Associate
B.S. and M.S., University of Vienna, Austria; Ph.D., University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Mario Pesendorfer is a research associate at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center, which strives to understand and mitigate the drivers of declining bird populations. Pesendorfer’s work with SMBC focuses on the conservation and ecology of North America’s most range-restricted passerine, the island scrub-jay (Aphelocoma insularis), which is endemic to Santa Cruz Island in California’s Channel Islands National Park. He is particularly interested in the role of the scrub-jay's symbiotic relationship with oaks, which appears to have accelerated the woody habitat recovery of the island following 150 years of habitat destruction.

In close collaboration with SMBC biologist Scott Sillett, Pesendorfer has collected the largest behavioral data set on seed dispersal by wild scatter-hoarding birds—birds that hide their seeds in small caches scattered throughout the landscape. The data revealed that the birds are very flexible when hiding their seeds, varying the rate and distance of acorn dispersal as a function of seed production by oaks, but also social dynamics with competitors. These insights not only contribute to the mechanistic understanding of this plant-animal interaction, but are also crucial to predicting how the birds will contribute to the recovery of oak populations. In addition, Pesendorfer’s work has contributed to the understanding of the drivers of spatial and temporal variation in seed production of oaks and other species, many of which are the dominant species of their community.
Pesendorfer was born and raised in Switzerland and obtained his undergraduate and master's education at the University of Vienna in Austria, where he graduated in 2007. After short research stints with chimpanzees in Uganda and common marmosets in Brazil, he joined the University of Nebraska for his Ph.D. Before graduating in 2014, Pesendorfer held Smithsonian Graduate Student and Predoctoral Fellowships and spent almost two years at the Smithsonian's Migratory Bird Center. He is now a Postdoctoral Associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the resident researcher at the Hastings Natural History Reservation in Carmel Valley, California. Together with his adviser Walt Koenig, he uses data from long-term research on the reproductive ecology of oaks to uncover the mystery of the large-scale synchrony in seed production and its effects on the many species that feed on acorns. In collaboration with researchers from Poland, Spain and Australia, he is now involved in plant and animal research around the globe.
In his free time, Pesendorfer enjoys hiking in the wilderness, surfing in the Pacific and cooking for his friends and family. He is also a co-organizer of the International Sand Sculpting Competition in Rorschach, Switzerland, which is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary. He lives with his partner on the Hastings Reservation, among the birds and trees he studies.
Recent Papers: 

Pesendorfer MB, Sillett TS, Koenig WD, Morrison SA. 2016. Scatter-hoarding corvids as seed dispersers for oaks and pines: a review of a widely distributed mutualism and its utility to habitat restoration. The Condor: Ornithological Applications 118: 215-237.

Pesendorfer MB, Sillett TS, Morrison SA, Kamil AC. 2016. Context-dependent seed dispersal by a scatter-hoarding corvid. Journal of Animal Ecology 85: 798-805

Pesendorfer MB, Koenig WD. 2017. Competing for seed dispersal: evidence for the role of avian seed hoarders in mediating apparent predation among oaks. Functional Ecology 31:  622–63

Projects