Nicholas Sutton

Post Doctoral Researcher

I am a behavioral and theoretical ecologist focused primarily on questions surrounding predator-prey strategy, information use, and decision-making in the wild. I use a combination of modeling, field, and wet lab techniques to develop and test mathematical models of wildlife behavior with the goals of 1) advancing our understanding of how animals use information encoded in the environment to make decisions, and 2) improving our methods for inferring decision-making processes from wild populations where manipulations and experimentation are not feasible. I earned my PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology while working with Dr. James O’Dwyer at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My doctoral work was focused on the development of a Bayesian, optimality modeling framework for characterizing deer escape decision-making, a framework I later extended to the study of Australian waterbird escape behavior. I also explored deer population stress level distributions to infer information about the stressors different populations face and to better understand how internal factors influence deer decision-making.

My current work with the Benson Lab is focused on understanding wolf and caribou movement decisions, especially pertaining to pursuit and evasion strategies. Specifically, I am developing methods for quantifying predator attack behavior from activity data for the purposes of testing game-theoretic models of predator and prey strategies. 


PhD: Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL

BS: Integrative Biology – Spatial and Quantitative Methods in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL


Sutton, N.M., Suski, C.D., Payne, K.M., O’Dwyer, J.P. Distributions of stress in wild white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations. In Preparation.

Sutton, N.M., Weston, M.A., Guay, P.J., Tregoweth, J., O’Dwyer, J.P. 2021. A Bayesian optimal escape model reveals bird species differ in their capacity to habituate to humans. Behavioral Ecology 32:1064–1074.

Sutton, N.M., and J.P. O’Dwyer. 2018. Born to run? Quantifying the balance of prior bias and new information in prey escape decisions. The American Naturalist 192.3:321-331

Mitchem, L.D., Stanis, S., Sutton, N.M., Turner, Z., Fuller, R.C. 2018. The pervasive effects of lighting environments on sensory drive in bluefin killifish: an investigation into male/male competition, female choice, and predation. Current Zoology 64:499-512

Sutton, N.M., and E.J. Heske. 2017. Effects of human state park visitation rates on escape behavior of white-tailed deer. Human–Wildlife Interactions 11:12