Thesis Defence Seminar on Red Squirrels

As part of her PhD thesis defense, Wild49 member Jessica Haines will be presenting a one-hour public seminar at 1pm on January 12, 2017, in room CCIS 1-243 at the University of Alberta. Her talk title and abstract are below.


Resources and Reproductive Trade-offs Affect Fitness, Life History Traits, and Sexual Selection in Red Squirrels
Animals face trade-offs throughout life between competing functions, such as between self-maintenance, reproduction, and survival. Resource allocation between these competing functions leads to different patterns of life history traits, changes in investment in reproductive effort, and different patterns of reproductive success. Reproductive investment is also influenced by the environment, for example by resource availability or mating opportunities. In this thesis, I test for evidence of reproductive and life history trade-offs, as well as for whether individual- and population-level resource availability affect reproduction and life history traits. I first tested whether there was evidence of age-related changes in reproductive success in male red squirrels, and in particular whether there was evidence of senescent decline in older ages. I also considered whether there was a trade-off between early-life reproduction and late-life senescence in male red squirrels. Next, I tested whether encountering a resource pulse affected life history traits. I also explored whether life history trade-offs and the fitness consequences of life history traits were affected by encountering a resource pulse called a mast year. Finally, I tested whether individual-level food availability was related with breeding season timing and reproductive success in male and female red squirrels.

 

Field Fun Friday

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Second year male in 2015 with a light, indistinct necklace.

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The same male captured in 2016, now an after second year male with a bold, distinct necklace.

During the breeding season, male songbirds often have brightly coloured and contrasting feather patterns to attract females. These patterns often become more pronounced and defined in older adult males. One of the distinguishing features of the Canada Warbler is the adult male’s dark necklaced feather pattern, which gets darker and more distinct after their second year. Not only did our banded male from 2015 return to the same breeding location, but he came back in 2016 sporting a beautifully developed necklace, and was accompanied by a nesting female! Looks like a year abroad did wonders for this warbler’s appeal. Post and photos by Anjolene Hunt.

Field Fun Friday

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It’s always fun to change things up and work with a new species or in a new habitat. Songbird researcher Anjolene Hunt was happy to help Jesse Watson, Frank Pouw, and Walter the owl carry out Broad-winged hawk capture and transmitter attachment as part of the Migratory Connectivity Project, a collaborative effort between the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the University of Alberta. Photos and post by Anjolene Hunt.

Public Outreach: Wetland Ecosystems Talk at St. Edmund Elementary/ Junior High School

Last week, Logan McLeod and myself travelled to St. Edmund Elementary/ Junior High School to give a presentation on wetland ecosystems to the grade 5 students. The students learned about wetlands, including the differences between wetland classes and what kinds of flora and fauna can be found in these habitats. We also introduced the students to our work with bioacoustics and had them identify some of the vocalizations of common wetland species. The talk ended in a brief meet and greet with three tiger salamanders, which we had brought along to show the students. The students took in a huge amount of information on wetland ecosystems and left the presentation ready to go explore the local wetlands in our city. One step to conserving our wetlands is understanding their value by experiencing them first hand.

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Text by Natasha Annich, photos by Christina Panizzon, grade 5 teacher at St. Edmund Elementary/Junior High school.

An Ode to the Boreal Forest

This week, PhD student Julia Shonfield wrote a blog post for Dispatches from the Field about her experience doing field work over multiple seasons in the boreal forest. The boreal forest covers a huge area in Canada, yet many Canadians don’t really know too much about how incredibly varied this ecosystem is or what it’s like to work there. Check it out on Dispatches from the Field. Each week you can tune in to that website to find out what field work is really like.

The Joys of Winter Fieldwork

Over the past couple weeks a number of students in the Bayne lab have headed out to deploy some autonomous recording units as part of bioacoustic monitoring for several projects this year in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Although it really feels like spring has arrived in Edmonton, it is still very wintery further north. For many of them it was their first experience with winter field work, and there were some pretty challenging snow and weather conditions. I’ve done several years of winter field work myself, first with the Kluane Red Squirrel project for my master’s, and most recently conducting acoustic surveys for owls for my PhD work. Winter field work can be extremely challenging, but can also be really enjoyable, so here are some of my favourite joys of winter field work:

 

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The incredible stillness of walking through a forest in the winter.

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That wonderful feeling of floating on top of the snow when there’s a solid crust.

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Hoarfrost coating everything on a chilly morning.

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Eerie winter sunlight straining through the clouds.

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Seeing exactly where an animal walked: coyote tracks in the snow.

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When the local residents follow you around, gray jays will often do this.

Photos and text by Julia Shonfield.