Each year, the Wilson Ornithological Society offers five categories of research grants. The projects awarded funding this year span many aspects of avian biology and will involve field work throughout North America and beyond. Congratulations to all of the grant recipients for 2022!
Louis Agassiz Fuertes Grants
Robert Driver, East Carolina University
Advisor: Christopher Balakrishnan
“Functional characterization of olfactory receptors in the context of their radiation in birds”
In birds, olfaction plays important roles in behaviors such as foraging, species recognition, and mate choice. Like other vertebrates, birds detect odor molecules with olfactory receptors. Driver’s examination of bird genomes has discovered hundreds of olfactory receptors in birds. However, we do not know if these olfactory receptors are used in smell. Driver will conduct an RNA expression study of the bird olfactory epithelium to determine the portion of the genomic olfactory receptor repertoire expressed in the olfactory system.
Heather Kenny-Duddela, University of Colorado Boulder
Advisor: Rebecca Safran
“How do female space use and social context influence mating outcomes in Barn Swallows?”
The goal of Kenny-Duddela’s research is to better understand female mating decisions in North American Barn Swallows. She combines detailed information about individual birds, including local movements from GPS tags, plumage color, and social interactions, to predict fertilizations between females and males across the landscape. The populations that she studies in Colorado, USA breed in groups ranging from 1-50 pairs, and Kenny-Duddela seeks to understand whether and how this spatial clustering influences mating opportunities and ultimately the evolution of plumage color. Since plumage color is sexually selected in this species, her approach will help reveal the fine-scale mechanisms of evolution by sexual selection.
George A. Hall / Harold F. Mayfield Grant
Bior Panchol, Public Outreach Officer, South Sudan Wildlife Society and Wildlife Research and Monitoring Officer, Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism
“Avifauna survey in Sudd Wetland of South Sudan”
Sudd wetlands include river margins, natural and man-made lakes, and man-made habitats such as fish and shrimp ponds, farm ponds, and irrigated agricultural land. The ecological value and significance of wetlands arises from their high primary productivity and rich biodiversity. The wetlands support a rich variety of species including numerous plants, many invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The main goal of the survey is to determine and compare the diversity, distribution, and abundance of avifauna in different habitat types within the Sudd Wetland.
Wilson Ornithological Society Research Grants
Liam Pendleton, University of Washington
Advisor: Sarah Converse
“Evaluating status and threats to foraging habitat for seabirds in the Salish Sea”
Pigeon Guillemots (Cepphus colomba; PIGU) and Rhinoceros Auklets (Cerorhinca monocerata; RHAU) are useful as indicators of marine ecosystem health in the Salish Sea, yet little is known about where they obtain their food and how conditions at these sites influence demographic rates. On Protection Island in Jefferson County, WA, Pendleton will monitor PIGU nesting success using nestboxes and both PIGU and RHAU will be tracked using lightweight GPS tags to identify foraging sites. This will allow him to relate environmental conditions at foraging sites to demographic rates, and to understand the risks of expected further disturbance to foraging sites as shipping traffic increases in the Salish Sea.
Eliza Stein, Louisiana State University
Advisor: Sabrina Taylor
“Prey selection by breeding and wintering Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor)”
Generalist predators are believed to exhibit higher resilience to changes in prey communities than specialists due to their ability to compensate for decreases in preferred prey. However, the effects of fluctuating prey communities may vary temporally and depend on a predator’s degree of specialization at each stage of the annual cycle. Stein’s research examines prey selection by Common Nighthawks, a migratory aerial insectivore facing steep population declines, in their breeding and wintering grounds. This project will pave the way toward management of nighthawks and other avian populations in their most vulnerable seasons and habitats as they face global insect declines.
Ankita Gupta, Duke University
Advisor: John R. Poulsen
“Landscape-scale patterns of avian diversity in agricultural wetlands in western India”
Wetlands in agricultural landscapes are maintained primarily for human use which is assumed to hinder use of wetlands by avifauna. Under the assumption that large wetlands support a majority of species of focal taxa, conservation efforts are biased towards protecting large wetlands. Gupta will conduct a landscape-scale survey to understand the factors determining diversity of birds in agricultural wetlands in the state of Gujarat in western India. This study will allow us to understand the spatial processes involved in bird species assemblage and the regional differences created by the wetland landscape context, including the effect of point features and connectivity with irrigation canals.
Katie Talbott, Indiana University.
Advisor: Ellen Ketterson
“Investigating the impact of avian malaria on songbird sperm quality.”
Plasmodium is a common, mosquito-borne parasite known to have detrimental impacts on bird health. However, the literature is mixed on whether Plasmodium parasitism reduces host fitness by reducing breeding success. One aspect of fitness that remains understudied is the impact of Plasmodium on gamete production and integrity, which potentially could preclude some individuals from breeding altogether. This project investigates the hypothesis that Plasmodium infections may reduce semen quality in dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis).
Paul A. Stewart Grants
Sarah Hoepfner, Iowa State University
Advisor: Stephen Dinsmore
“Use of planes and high-frequency GPS transmitters to better understand shorebird breeding ecology”
Hoepfner’s research focuses on remotely monitoring Dunlin (Calidris alpina arcticola) breeding movements using high-frequency GPS transmitters. With this alternative nest monitoring method, she hopes to determine the first true nest survival estimates of Dunlin without the effects of human disturbance. These rates will be compared to heavily human disturbed areas with traditional shorebird nest monitoring methods to better understand the effects of our research methods, and hopefully be able to minimize or account for it.
Miguel Jimenez, Colorado State University
Advisor: Kyle Horton
“Validating and extending bird migration forecasts with a mobile radar”
Radar is a powerful tool for quantifying bird movement and forecasting nocturnal migration intensity. However, the weather surveillance radar system on which this tool relies is limited by gaps in spatial coverage and challenges with sampling areas with variable topography. Jimenez will address these limitations by collecting ground truth data with a mobile radar at varying distances and elevations from a stationary weather surveillance radar station. Through this, Jimenez aims to validate and extend observations from weather radar stations and, by extension, forecasts of nocturnal migration events.
Stephanie Szarmach, Pennsylvania State University
Advisor: David Toews
“The evolution of new migration routes as a mechanism for breeding range expansion: Linking the breeding and wintering grounds of high-latitude Myrtle Warblers”
Szarmach’s research focuses on why certain migratory birds breed at high latitudes far from their wintering ranges, while closely related species with similar habitat requirements do not. The myrtle warbler (Setophaga coronata coronata) is one of only four parulid warblers with a boreal breeding range extending from the Atlantic Coast to Alaska, and it has two disjunct wintering ranges: one on the Atlantic Coast and the other on the Pacific Coast. Szarmach will test the hypothesis that the evolution of an alternate migration route to a closer wintering area facilitated the expansion of myrtle warblers into high latitudes using light-level geolocators to track migrating warblers to determine whether birds breeding at high northwestern latitudes are more likely to winter on the Pacific Coast. This project will improve our understanding of myrtle warbler migratory connectivity and of the relationship between migratory behavior and geographic range.
Nicholas Vinciguerra, University of New Mexico and Museum of Southwestern Biology
Advisor: Michael J. Andersen
“Phylogeography and species limits of the Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)”
The Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre) is a widespread bird of the North American desert southwest. Two groups are recognized based on plumage differences: T. c. palmeri (Sonoran Desert) and T. c. curvirostre (Chihuahuan Desert). Previous work has documented a mismatch of taxonomy and mitochondrial DNA where both groups come into contact in New Mexico. This project aims to describe the phylogenomic structure of the Curve-billed Trasher complex to better assess species limits using an integrative taxonomic approach of genes, plumage characters, and bioacoustic data.