A Day in the Life of an Arctic Field Scientist

Words by Clara Nielson, University of Exeter PhD Student

A day in the life of an Arctic field scientist

Hello! My name is Clara Nielson and I am a PhD student from Exeter University studying the impacts of global change on marine species in Dr Ceri Lewis’s lab. We are currently at 78 degrees north in a place called Ny Alesund, in Svalbard at the UK NERC Arctic Station for AXA XL Arctic Live with Encounter Edu. We are here to both conduct important research but also to communicate what we are doing to schools around the world.

Clara Nielson and Dr Ceri Lewis in the Arctic

Pulling open the curtains to a view of snow covered mountains and glaciers on the edge of a fjord will guarantee to put a smile on your face and put you in a good mood for the rest of the day. Our usual day starts waking up in the base and heading to the canteen for breakfast. Ny Alesund is home to a range of international scientists all coming and going at different parts of the year and the canteen is the communal hub where everyone can share a meal, and a story or two, before heading off for the day.

Arctic View

Weather permitting (we have had a few base days where we are unable to get out onto the boat due to high winds) we usually spend the day out on Teisten, the research boat, collecting water samples from different parts and depths of the fjord. We are out here to monitor the pH and carbonate chemistry of the seawater, as part of a global ocean acidification project. Ocean acidification is the change in ocean chemistry as a result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and this process is happening fastest in the Arctic. The samples we are taking will help fill in the global picture of just how fast this process is happening. We are also sampling for any microplastics that may be in the seawater as the Arctic is also thought to be a hotspot for microplastic accumulation due to ocean currents. We were here last year doing the same sampling, and we did find some plastic, so it will be really interesting to compare our data and that of other long term projects to see how the Arctic is changing. Today it was -7oC, which is pretty cold but add to that the wind chill and we were out in temperatures of about -25 oC. This made sampling slightly trickier than at home as the seawater and all of our sampling gear was freezing pretty quickly, not to mention how cold my hands were getting! Its hard to describe how that sort of temperature feels but basically it’s painfully cold. Thankfully team work, biscuits and a kettle kept everything working!

 

The cold is soon forgotten as once the days sampling is over we can head back to our heated base but the hot shower has to wait just a little longer! First, we need to make sure all our kit is cleaned ready to go again tomorrow and the samples are stored away correctly.

After dinner we spend a bit of time looking through samples and manage to show our Arctic base manager Nick his first sea angel! This is a type of zooplankton called a pteropod, which flapped around our petridish and made this seasoned field man swoon at its beauty.

Frozen equipment is a daily challenge.

Before bed I spend a bit of time with Jamie, from Encountered Edu, going through what I shall be doing tomorrow as it is my day to take part in Arctic Live. Arctic Live is the other important reason we are all here, as alongside our research we are taking part in a live streaming educational lessons and question and answer sessions where we speak to school children live from around the world about our experiences and answer their questions about the Arctic and what it is like to work here. I am looking forward to hearing what questions the children have come up with! Its really cool that we can share what we are doing live from this amazing place, I hope it inspires them.

It is time for bed once we are all set for tomorrow, the 24-hour daylight is making it slightly harder to get to sleep as you feel like it should be the middle of the afternoon, not 11pm but it is important that we all get a good rest.

I feel very privileged to be out in such a stunningly beautiful place and it is without doubt the best place I have ever done field work in. The wildlife here is amazing too, today we saw a Minke whale from the end of the boat which was incredible. The Arctic is at the forefront of climate change where the impacts are being felt first and fastest and is also a hotspot for plastic pollution so it is probably the most important place to be doing this kind of science right now.

All images a courtesy of Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop of Encounter Edu.

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

Endangered Sharks on Sale in the UK

Written by Catherine Hobbs

 

Many shark populations are at risk, primarily due to overexploitation. In response,  conservation measures have been applied in an attempt to halt the decline of endangered species. A team of researchers led by Dr Andrew Griffiths at the University of Exeter sought to investigate the sale of shark products in fishmongers, fish and chip takeaways and Asian food wholesalers in England. Through DNA barcoding (a method using specific DNA sequences to identify species) they uncovered patterns of shark species found in the products and highlighted the diverse range of vulnerable sharks on sale to the general public.

For the first time in Europe, mini-barcodes were also used to identify species from dried shark fins obtained from a UK wholesaler intending to supply Asian restaurants and supermarkets. Analysis revealed a range of threatened species, including the endangered and ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’ (CITES) listed scalloped hammerhead shark. A listing in CITES works by subjecting international trade of certain species to a rigorous licencing system and requires an assessment by the exporting country that the trade will not be detrimental to wild populations. The addition of scalloped hammerheads to Appendix II of CITES in 2014 provided conservationists with the hope that populations might bounce back. The findings in this study, however, indicate the need for larger-scale investigations to properly identify patterns of shark fin sales.

 

Dr Griffiths said, “the discovery of endangered hammerhead sharks is significant as it highlights how widespread the sale of declining species really is – even reaching Europe and the UK”. He goes on to say, “the result of the study is consistent with extensive separate investigations focusing on Asia, which commonly identified scalloped hammerhead in fin processing”. Additional fins sourced from a large seizure in the UK by the UK Border Force were also analysed. These fins originated from Mozambique and were on their way to Asia, emphasising the role the UK already plays in policing this damaging global trade.

Examination of the products from fishmongers and takeaways revealed that the majority of samples were identified as Spiny Dogfish, a small demersal shark that is endangered in Europe. However, it is important to note that the samples may have been imported from more sustainable stocks elsewhere, rather than from prohibited landings in the EU. Of great significance was the universal use of ambiguous ‘umbrella’ sales terms, where many species are labelled with the same name. Here it is clear that not only the presence of labels is important, but that specificity is key. Indeed, full compliance with EU legislations on the labelling of seafood was not observed and, without such labels, endangered species are at potentially increased risk of unsustainable exploitation.

First author, Catherine Hobbs said “this withholds vital information from consumers as they are subjected to buying endangered species when they perhaps thought the product was sustainably sourced”. She went on to say “it may be of particular relevance regarding potential allergies as well as pollutant content. Contaminants found in some sharks such as mercury, for example, could pose severe consequences to human health”.

Knowledge of shark species consumption in the UK, especially those of prohibited species and those of high conservation concern, enhances our ability to address the decline in shark populations. These findings indicate the need for more informative and accurate seafood labelling, not only empowering consumers to make informed decisions as to eating preferences, but also helping to reduce fraud. This could therefore aid in the conservation of threatened species. The study also highlights the existence of imported fins from highly threatened sharks and the UK must therefore be held accountable for its contribution to global shark decline.

 

 

The paper has been published in the journal Scientific Reports;

Using DNA Barcoding to Investigate Patterns of Species Utilisation in UK Shark Products Reveals Threatened Species on Sale

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

 

 

It’s World Penguin Day!

 Today is World Penguin Day!

 
Penguins are some of the most recognisable characters amongst the cast of species that call the oceans their home. Whether they love them (almost everyone!) or hate them, people I meet rarely fail to register an emotional response when I tell them I work on penguins. And that’s got to be a good thing this World Penguin Day because, globally, penguins are not fairing well. Of the 18 species of penguin, 11 are undergoing population declines and 10 are considered as threatened on the IUCN Red List. Penguins are threatened by climate change, pressure from fisheries interactions and pollution, amongst other things. But there are successful conservation stories for penguins species too and teams of dedicated people are working to ensure these charismatic species stick around to see many a more World Penguin Day in future.
Have a look at this blog post to find out more about our work to conserve African penguins: http://multimedia.earthwatch.org/a-comeback-story-in-the-making
or this recently accepted review for more information on all 18 species: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2019.00248/abstract.
A Penguin-eye view: foraging for fish

Happy World Penguin Day!

Words and Images by ExeterMarine researcher Richard Sherley.

Scientists at Sea Podcast – Seals and Salmon Farms, with Lizzie Daly

Show Notes

Disclaimer

While we are very supportive of our alumni, we need to emphasise that the views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily representative of the University of Exeter and the guest’s views are their own.


In this episode, we’re joined by one of our alumni, Lizzie Daly. Lizzie is a wildlife presenter, filmmaker, and researcher whose work regularly focuses on human-wildlife conflict. In this instance, Lizzie was inspired to take action after reading about seals being shot in Scotland in order to protect fish stocks.

 

After months of research and frequent trips to Scotland, Lizzie released a film addressing the issue titled: ‘Silent Slaughter – The Shooting of Scotland’s Seals’. You can watch this below. The film was entirely self-funded and free to watch.

 


 

Silent Slaughter – The Shooting of Scotland’s Seals


“I’d like to see more conservation stories told in the reality of what they are”  


About our guest: Lizzie Daly

Lizzie filming an elephant translocation in Kenya.

Lizzie only graduated from our Penryn Campus in 2016, but has already achieved an awful lot as a wildlife presenter, filmmaker and researcher. Starting out as a wildlife expert on CBeebies, Lizzie is now a presenter for BBC Earth Unplugged and has featured on the BBC2 wildlife quiz show, Curious Creatures. After completing an MSc at Bristol University, Lizzie also spent two months in Kenya documenting human-elephant conflict management whilst producing, directing and presenting a video series that you can watch on her Youtube channel. In addition to this she has also become an Ocean Ambassador for the Marine Conservation Society, an ambassador for the Jane Goodall Institute UK, she’s the Female Ambassador for Fjällräven and an Academic Teaching and Outreach Fellow at Swansea University.

 

 


Topics discussed

The role and importance of aquaculture in Scotland and attitudes of local people.

The pros and cons of alternative seal deterrents including:

  • Acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs).
  • Econets.
  • Double nets.

Seal shooting licences.

Salmon farming industry attitudes towards both seals and activism.

The challenges of filming controversial topics.

Telling important stories online/social media.


Ending on a positive note – What has happened since the release of Silent Slaughter?


Resources:

Lizzie’s Website

Lizzie’s Youtube channel

Lizzie’s Instagram

Lizzie’s Facebook Page

Lizzie’s Twitter

Bonus! Watch Lizzie presenting back in her student days (with our host, Ethan Wrigglesworth)


Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Ethan Wrigglesworth

Check out other episodes of the podcast here.

You can subscribe on most podcast apps, if you’re feeling kind please leave us a review!

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Scientists at Sea Podcast – Microplastics and Sharks with Kristian Parton

Show Notes – Mircoplastics and Sharks with Kristian Parton

 

Of all the pollutants impacting the environment, plastics are perhaps among the most talked about and campaigned against in recent years. We’ve had members of Sail Against Plastic on the podcast before to discuss the presence of plastics in some of the most remote areas of ocean, but in this episode we take a look into how some plastics penetrate further – the invasion of food web ecology by microplastics.

 


 

Kristian Parton 

As an undergraduate with the University of Exeter, Kristian developed a strong interest in

marine conservation, specifically elasmobranch (shark and ray) ecology and biology. After being involved in several shark conservation projects around the world, from Mozambique to the Philippines, Kristian went on to start his current research as a Master by Research post-graduate investigating plastic ingestion in several North-East Atlantic shark species; Tope, Dogfish, Smooth-hound, Bull huss and Spurdog. The project aims to investigate whether diet and foraging behaviour has an influence on the consumption of micro plastic, and its accumulation within the digestive tracts of these species.

 


 

Is it a dog? Is it a fish? No, it’s a shark…

Kristian’s research has a broad focus on several small to moderate shark species found in the waters of the UK and North-East Atlantic, most of which are unknown to the wider public – all too often over-shadowed by larger, more cinematic species. The most common species that Kristian works with is the Lesser Spotted Dogfish…or the Small Spotted Catshark…or some may say the Murgey (Scyliorhinus canicula). Whatever you wish to call it, this species exhibit beautiful spotted patterns on a pale body, and are a delight to see in the wild for those lucky enough to spot them among the kelp beds. Though regularly caught in numerous trawl and gill net fisheries, they are not often eaten among Cornwall, though are put to use as bait while Kristian claims a few from local fishermen for science. The exact status of their stocks is unknown though they are thought to be fairly numerous and common. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of the other sharks that Kristian samples.

For more information on the fisheries of S. caniculla, and other shark and/or marine species click here.

 


 

Fake Plastic Seas 

With so much plastic floating around, there is no surprise that it finds its way into the food webs of marine ecosystems. Our news feeds are battered by reports of stranded marine animals whose stomachs are littered with plastics, clips of animals mistaking plastic bags for their primary food sources, and new studies quantifying the presence of micro-plastics in almost all areas of nature. The problem is more than just full bellies of unnatural content, which in of itself is a great concern. Studies have shown that plastics may contain chemical traces that can disrupt systems by which organisms regulate and produce hormones, leading to further and exacerbated biological implications.

To find out more, have a listen to the episode.

 


 

If you wish to keep up to date with Kris’s research, give his ever lively twitter a follow @Kjparton

If you want to learn more about LAMAVE – the organisation with which Kristian helped with whale shark research in the Philippines – you can read more here: https://www.lamave.org

You can also view Kristian’s award-winning film here: The Southern Continent: A Journey to Antarctica

 


 

Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Ethan Wrigglesworth

Check out other episodes of the podcast here.

You can subscribe on most podcast apps, if you’re feeling kind please leave us a review!

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Scientists at Sea Podcast – ICEBERGS with Dr. Alejandro Roman Gonzalez

Show Notes – ICEBERGS

In this episode Ethan and Ben talk to Dr. Alejandro Roman Gonzalez about ICEBERGS, a research voyage aboard the RRS James Clark Ross to the West Antarctic Peninsula. Alejandro is part of a team of scientists, technicians and crew that are collecting data to help understand how marine life in this region is responding and adapting to climate change.

 


 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Take a look some of Alejandro’s stunning images from the first expedition. You can see these, and more on his photoblog.

 


 

At the time of writing, they are currently mid-voyage on their second of three annual expeditions. Luckily for us, this means there’s already plenty to look at from the first expedition in the winter of 2017/18. Below we have linked articles from the official ICEBERGS blog, be sure to check back there for more in the future!

 


 

Some of the key locations for the voyage.

 

Welcome!!

Some background on ICEBERGS and the West Antarctic Peninsula.

 

Crossing the Drake Passage

Recounting the voyage across one of the roughest seas on Earth.

 

 

 

 

Sunset over the pancake ice at Marguerite Bay.

Sea ice!

Something the team had to contend with on a regular basis.

Borgen Bay

An update from a stunning location.

 

Read about some of the techniques employed by the team in the following articles:
Science

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

Microplastics

Grabbing for mud

Antarctic Plankton Pigments

 

 


 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some more of Alejandro’s fantastic photographs from the 2017/18 expedition. You can see these, and more on his photoblog.

 


 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Underwater photographs from the 2017-18 voyage.

 


 

About our guest: Dr. Alejandro Roman Gonzalez 

Alejandro is a Research at the University of Exeter, his research focuses on the use of Antarctic coastal mollusc bivalves as recorders of climate variability in marine ecosystems, otherwise known as Sclerochronology (you might remember Paul Butler talking about this in a previous episode). Alongside his academic work, Alejandro is also a talented landscape and nature photography (which is evident as he’s provided all the fantastic  photos for these show notes). Be sure to check out his photoblog.

 

 


 

Useful Links

You can take a virtual tour of the RRS James Clark Ross here

Find out about the British Antarctic Survey here.

You can follow the ICEBERGS team on twitter – @ICEBERGS_JCR.

Take a look at Alejandro’s photoblog here.

Find the latest ICEBERGS blog here.

 


 

Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Ethan Wrigglesworth

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Scientists at Sea Podcast – Climate Change, why don’t people act? With Catherine Leyshon

Show Notes

In the last episode we spoke with Paul Butler and Annette Broderick about climate change and how this impacts their work on bivalves and turtles respectively. We also discussed some of the key points of the IPCC’s latest climate change report. If you would like to check that out, click here.

This time, we’re taking a slightly different approach in a chat we had with Professor of Human Geography, Catherine Leyshon. Specifically, we discussed the reasons why, in the face of overwhelming evidence, we appear to do very little in response.

The discussion ranges from why people might struggle to make small, every day changes, right through to governmental/international levels.


“We’re not really set up as a society to reward good behaviour, we tend to sanction bad behaviour”


Why don’t some actions work?

Australia’s Green tax:

The Great Barrier Reef is rapidly disappearing due to climate change.
Photo credit – Toby Hudson

This seemed like a good idea in principle, but ultimately didn’t work out, we’ve collected a few pieces relating to this. You can read about what the taxes were, what impact they had, why they were abandoned, and what has happened as a result:

What was the emissions tax?

“Australia records biggest emissions drop in a decade as carbon tax kicks in”

“Australia abandons disastrous green tax on emissions”

“Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions soar in latest figures”

 


What actions might work?

Mullion Harbour Wall in a storm
Photo credit: Layla Astley

Shifting Shores

In the UK we are seeing some changes. For example, the National Trust have introduced their Shifting Shores project, where they will now be focusing on adapting to changes at their coastal sites, rather than trying to prevent change.

For those of us in Cornwall, Mullion harbour wall is a particularly relevant example, you can read about the challenges the National Trust have faced with this here.

In 2012, Catherine co-authored a paper going into greater depth about this, which you can find here: Shifting Shores: Managing Challenge and Change on the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, UK


As Ethan mentioned in the episode, we are seeing some other actions, such as: Dutch parliament to set target of 95 percent CO2 reduction by 2050. There are several other areas covered in the episode, but to find out more you’ll need to give it a listen!


You can also read the IPCC Climate Change Press Release in full here.


Associate Professor Catherine Leyshon:

Catherine is a human geographer whose work combines landscape ecology, social relations and climate change. Catherine’s work on climate change is interesting for many reasons, but one aspect that really makes it stand out is its focus on local communities here in Cornwall. Studies can all too often focus on the distant impacts of climate change, but numerous studies from Catherine help to highlight the potential changes occurring on our door step.

Twitter: @cleyshon 

Link to Scholar list of publications


Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson and Ethan Wrigglesworth

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Scientists at Sea Podcast – Climate Change, Turtles, and Bivalves

Show Notes

In this episode Ethan and Ben discuss the latest Climate Change Report released by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), with Professor Annette Broderick and Dr. Paul Butler. As well as covering key points of the report, Annette and Paul tell us about how climate change is a significant aspect of their current research.

 

About our guests:

Annette Broderick – Professor of Marine Conservation

Profile

Annette’s research investigates the exploitation of marine vertebrates, with a primary focus on marine turtles. The thermal environment is particularly important for turtles, so the potential effects of climate change could have a big impact on these populations. Listen to the episode to find out more.

If you’re interested in turtle conservation, Annette runs a long-term field study in northern Cyprus which takes on volunteers each year, you can find out more here

 

“The most biodiverse habitats in the world that we have are on the reefs, we’re going to lost those systems undoubtedly I think by 2040/2050 we’ll be talking about corals reefs and how beautiful they were.”

 

 

 

Dr. Paul Butler – Honorary Senior Research Fellow

Profile

Paul’s research is in the field of sclerochronology, focusing in particular on the use of shells from long-lived bivalve molluscs to study the history of the marine environment. Essentially, these molluscs deposit annual increments in their shells (like rings on a tree stump). If a bivalve shell has a known date of death, a timeline of environmental variables can be investigated from that one shell, including seawater temperature and the origin of water masses. This can be of particular interest when studying climate change. Have a listen to the episode and take a look at Paul’s profile for more information.

 

 

Want to know more about sclerochronology and some intriguing clam facts? Sarah Holmes, PhD Researcher, wrote an excellent blog about this a few months ago, you can read it in full here.

 

 

Arctica islandica, one of Paul’s study species
Photo – Hans Hillewaert

 

 

Our longest chronology, which goes for 1300 years, is for waters of the north coast of Iceland… essentially we’ve got a temperature record… over the past 1000 years it shows a declining temperature up to about 150 years ago and then it shows a rapid increase

 

 

What is the IPCC?

The IPCC was established 30 years ago by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide a scientific view of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

What is the IPCC Climate Change Report?

In December 2015 the Paris climate agreement was signed whereupon countries agreed that they would keep global temperatures “well below two degrees C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees C”. The UN asked the IPCC to produce a special report to assess the feasibility of keeping global temperature rises to a maximum of 1.5C.

Scientists are nominated by governments and international institutions. In this particular report there we 91 lead authors from 40 countries which reviewed 6,000 references. This work is unpaid.

Where do we stand right now?

Currently we are on track to reach 1.5C warming between 2030 and 2052, and 3C by 2100.

If we hit just 2C warming, this could have serious impacts, here are just a handful:

  • Almost all coral reefs will be destroyed.
  • The arctic will have summers with no ice at least once a decade.
  • Huge numbers of animals and plants will become extinct.
  • Low-lying coastal regions, such as Bangladesh, will suffer from sea level rise.

 

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I. – IPCC Press Release

 

There has been extensive coral bleaching already due to sea temperature rise
Photo – Acropora

Can we avoid this?

Yes, but we have just 12 years to turn it around and serious change is required. You can read more about that here.

The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.

“Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III. – IPCC Press Release

You can read the IPCC Climate Change Press Release in full here.

 

Hosted by Ethan Wrigglesworth

Episode and show notes produced by Ben Toulson

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

Nocturnal Flamingo Behaviour

Author: Dr. Paul Rose

 

We know a lot about the behaviour of wild species during the daytime and behaviour studies on animals in human care are often used to help inform us of their welfare state. For lots of species housed in zoological collections, we know little about what they do once their keepers go home. To fully understand their behaviour patterns, and what goes on when we’re not watching, we can use technology to observe their behaviour patterns across a full 24 hour cycle.

It’s commonplace to use data from the wild to help explain what our animals are doing in captivity. For species that might be just as active during the night as well as during the day, our observations on a human time-frame might only be half of the story. As more research is published on the ecology of wild species, this can be used to inform how we keep species in zoological collections- and knowledge of the nocturnal habits of “diurnal” species is one such area of scientific investigation.

 

The flamingo enclosure at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre

 

This research focused on flamingos, one of the world’s most popular of zoo animals occurring in a huge number of animal collections globally. Wild studies of flamingos have noted that feeding and foraging, chick rearing and movements between feeding and breeding areas can occur overnight. But how active are zoo birds? Will they still follow a similar activity budget to that shown in the field?

Using several remote trail cameras, fitted around the enclosure of a large flock of around 270 greater flamingos housed at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre behaviour across both day and night was collected over spring and summer 2016. The bird’s enclosure was split into different habitats areas, based on water depth in their pool and land areas used for different behaviour (such as nesting and rearing young) to see if areas commonly utilised during the daytime were still used overnight.

 

 

Shots taken directly from remote cameras stationed around the flamingo enclosure taken during the day (above), and at night (below).

 

Remote cameras are great for capturing behaviour in the wild and in the zoo. They reduce the chance of a human observer affecting or influencing the behaviour of the animal being watched. And they can be set to record animals at specific times, to focus on what animals might be doing over different seasons or times of day. And they can help collect data to inform animal welfare standards by providing a picture of how animals use their space and what areas of their habitat they prefer to be in.

Results show that these flamingos use their enclosure differently at night to that seen in daytime. Foraging behaviours peaked in the evening, showing that even though the flamingos are provided with a complete diet, natural filtering in their pool is still an important behaviour for these birds to perform.

Widest enclosure use, with the largest number of birds using the maximum number of zones was seen during the later evening, middle of the night and into the early morning. Birds congregated in fewer areas of their habitat during the later morning and middle of the day- preferring to be in one specific place for resting and preening.

Some behaviours were more commonly performed during daylight- courtship display for example peaks in the morning, and is lowest overnight. Showing that for some behaviours with a high visual impact, time of day for its performance is important for the message being presented by the behaviour.

 

 

This research has important implications for how we manage zoo populations of flamingos and other species in animal collections. These nocturnal observations show us the times in a day when flamingos naturally spend their time on key behaviours. By providing a habitat that allows a range of activities to be performed at different times, and not restricting the birds space to use these areas means that in a zoological collection, a natural behaviour pattern is performed. This is important for the welfare of these birds as the good features of this enclosure (its large size, the range of habitat areas, and the large number of birds housed within it) can be replicated in other zoological institutions to provide the highest quality of life possible.

We also show the influence of season on overall flock nocturnal activity levels- with birds becoming more active as spring progresses into summer, dipping slightly during the nesting and incubation period and then rising as chicks fledge and leave the nest. These data are helpful for breeding programmes, monitoring the seasonal changes in animals as potential predictors of when reproductive behaviours may occur.

These data are also useful to those studying wild flamingos too, as if we know the times of the day that flamingos like to forage or rest, or where they prefer to gather in larger number, so we can help maintain or create such spaces within their wild habitats, away from disturbances to encourage birds to settle and breed, or to forage at times of the day most suitable for them. With four of the six species of flamingo having a level of conservation concern from the IUCN all information on their behavioural ecology can be useful to the conservation of future populations.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Paul Rose is a zoologist whose interests lie in behavioural ecology, ornithology and animal welfare. Paul has previously researched the relevance and importance of social networks in captive species, and the associated implications for zoo animal husbandry and welfare. He now researchers enclosure usage and breeding behaviour of captive flamingos to help further evidence base the husbandry techniques used for them.

“I would be interested to hear from anyone working in the zoo industries who is working with flamingos, or giraffes or wildfowl, as well as from those researchers who are also investigating similar questions / areas of zoo animal behaviour and husbandry across taxa. Please do get in touch if you’re interested in a collaboration.”

To find about more about Paul’s project click here

You can find Paul on:

Twitter

ResearchGate

LinkedIn

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Tracking Seabirds to Inform Conservation Measures At Sea

Author: Dr Nicola Weber

 

Having studied and worked in biodiversity conservation, with a marine focus, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of marine megafauna species, but it wasn’t until a move to Ascension Island (to work with sea turtles) that I forayed into the world of seabird ecology. Seabirds are known to be sentinels of the sea with a number of studies demonstrating how they can be used as indicators of the “health” of the marine environment. While seabirds nest on land, they largely find all of their food at sea, so any changes in the availability of their food resources can have a significant impact on their health and reproductive success.

As with many marine species, advances in technology have made it possible to study the largely unseen journeys and behaviours of seabirds at sea using increasingly small tracking devices that are normally attached the feathers of the bird. These devices then either need to be retrieved to download the data or can transmit it using satellite technology. During my time working on Ascension Island we attached tracking devices to a number of seabird species including the endemic frigatebird, the masked booby, sooty terns and yellow-billed tropicbirds. These projects involved many people including supervisors at the University of Exeter who conceived ideas and secured funding, experienced colleagues at the RSPB who helped with study design, deployment of devices and interpretation of data, and of course those working on the ground at the Ascension Island Government Conservation & Fisheries Department who know the area and the birds better than anybody else. Expeditions to tag seabirds, in particular on the offshore islet, Boatswainbird Island, that the local boat drivers skilfully got us on to, remain a highlight of my 5 years on Ascension Island.

 

 

Over the last 20 years, researchers have equipped over 100 species of seabirds with tracking devices to follow their movements at sea. As such studies become increasingly common, a wealth of information is being collected and many of these data have been contributed to the BirdLife Seabird Tracking Database and can be used for conservation planning or research, for example by identifying areas at sea that are important foraging grounds and hence may benefit from protective measures being put in place. It is only in this collaborative way that we can carry out holistic research projects to gain real insights into marine ecology and conservation at a more global scale.

In a new study published this week in the journal Marine Policy, researchers from RSPB and BirdLife International summarised the tracking data of 52 species from 10 families across the Atlantic Ocean (including those from the Ascension Island birds) to highlight the differences in the spatial scale of their movements during the breeding season. This summary, based on more than 12,000 foraging trips from over 5000 breeding birds, highlights the enormous differences between seabird families: while cormorants and shags often only travel 5-10 km out to sea, albatrosses, petrels, and frigatebirds routinely travel more than 200 km to find food during the breeding season. As there is a variety of options to protect seabirds at sea, it is thus important for policy makers and conservation practitioners to understand which approach is most suitable for which species based on their behavioural ecology. For example, birds that travel very far and exploit vast areas at sea may require conservation measures at a much larger scale than birds that travel only a short distance and remain in a smaller area.

 

 

This study highlights one of the aspects of academic research that I find the most interesting and rewarding – the collection of reliable data that can be used to inform management decisions and lead to tangible conservation actions being implemented, through the collaborative efforts of many people and organisations.

Please see the paper for full acknowledgements of people, organisations and funding bodies.

 

Dr. Nicola Weber 

(http://biosciences.exeter.ac.uk/staff/index.php?web_id=Nicola_Weber)

You can get in touch with Nicola through:

Twitter

ResearchGate

LinkedIn

 

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!