Debra Shier, Ph.D.

Brown Endowed Associate Director

Dr. Debra Shier serves San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance as the Brown Endowed Associate Director of Recovery Ecology. In this capacity, she runs a growing program focused on threatened and endangered mammals and frogs in the southwestern United States. For over 20 years she has been studying the ways in which an understanding of animal behavior and ecology can be applied to conservation strategies such as reintroductions and translocations. Her research has focused on using basic theory to create effective and efficient relocation methods by encouraging settlement, dampening stress, and increasing fitness with an emphasis on behavioral competency. Research collaborations with our Conservation Genetics team include landscape level studies to inform reserve management practices and species recovery. More recently, her research has expanded into local restoration and examining anthropogenic effects on wildlife behavior, fitness, and persistence.

At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Debra established and oversees the Pocket Mouse Conservation Breeding Facility, which focuses on survival skill development, sensory ecology, mate choice, foraging, antipredator behavior, stress, and genetic management. She also leads projects throughout San Diego, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties that include research on reintroduction and translocation biology, effects of light and sound on nocturnal species, effects of stress in relocation, and range-wide genetics. In addition, Debra is part of an international collaboration on Tasmanian devil reintroduction. Her model species include: Stephens’ and San Bernardino kangaroo rats, California ground squirrels, Pacific and Los Angeles pocket mice, black-tailed prairie dogs, ringtails, Tasmanian devils, and mountain yellow-legged frogs. In her capacity as an adjunct faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles, she also studies poison dart frogs and Neotropical harvestmen. 

Debra received her bachelor’s degree in Biopsychology from University of California, Santa Barbara. She received a master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology and Systematics from San Francisco State University. She received master’s and doctorate degrees in Animal Behavior with an emphasis in Wildlife Conservation from University of California, Davis.