Research Ecologist and Public Speaker at the University of Minnesota,
Dr. Michelle LaRue is a research ecologist and public speaker at the University of Minnesota, where she focuses the distribution, habitat, and effects of human impacts on populations of Emperor and Adélie penguins, Weddell seals, polar bears, and cougars. Michelle started her research career as an undergraduate intern studying food habits of bats and habitat use of white-tail deer at Minnesota State University Mankato. This work propelled her to a master's project at Southern Illinois University Carbondale that focused on potential habitat and eastward range expansion of cougars in midwestern North America, work she continues today. In 2014, Michelle received her PhD in Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota, where she studied populations of Emperor and Adélie penguins and Weddell seals using new technology: specifically, high-resolution satellite imagery. Her current research takes an interdisciplinary approach and combines the power of citizen scientists with sea ice modeling, ecology, and satellite imagery to learn about the environmental drivers of population change for Weddell seals around Antarctica.
Michelle's five seasons of Antarctic field work have led to the first ever population estimates of two penguin species, informed the United States’ proposal for the recently-successful Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, and launched her to the executive director position of The Cougar Network, which is the premiere research organization on cougar habitat and recolonization in North America. Over the past ten years, she has presented her work to diverse audiences at meetings like Gordon Research Conference and IdeaCity, and her internationally-recognized research has been covered by hundreds of media outlets, including articles in The Wall Street Journal and National Geographic, and interviews on NBC Nightly News, BBC, and NPR.