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by Nina Lany, Dartmouth IGERT Fellow
Attending the 5th North American Ornithological Conference (NAOC) was a great experience, especially for a PhD student who does not specialize in bird research! Over 1,400 people from 25 countries came together in Vancouver, British Columbia from August 14-18, 2012, to present on all things bird related. I was impressed by the combination of excellent fundamental research in ecology and evolution and work that is truly able to inform conservation and policy.
Black-throated blue warbler nest containing 2-3 day old nestlings at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in NH. Photo: Charlie Governali
I am a 4th year PhD student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and part of the IGERT program in Polar Environmental Change at Dartmouth College. The work I presented involves warm springs, the timing (phenology) of breeding by black-throated blue warblers, and their consequent reproductive success for the past 25 years at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, USA. Phenological advances are among the most widely reported consequences of climate warming, and often the ecological consequences of such advances are determined by comparing the rates at which interacting species shift their phenologies. Unequal phenological shifts are thought likely to decouple a consumer from its food resource (a trophic mismatch), resulting in population declines in some species. I show that in this population, an unequal phenological shift – apparently a phenological mismatch - is a pre-existing adaptive strategy that results in the highest reproductive success, most likely because there are physiological costs associated with breeding too early but breeding too late reduces the number of breeding attempts that can be made in the season. For each 10-day advance in spring phenology, the birds advanced breeding dates by only about 5 days, but responding either more or less strongly to changes in tree phenology resulted in fewer young fledged per pair. I presented this work in a symposium on avian migration phenology, organized by Jherime Kellerman (USA National Phenology Network, University of Arizona) and Eric Wood (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and truly benefitted from thoughtful discussions with symposium participants.
But most of all, I appreciated the connections I made with others at the NAOC due to a shared academic heritage. Former undergraduate and graduate students, as well as numerous former field assistants, who are now highly influential biologists presented great talks acknowledging the importance of working on this long-term bird study at Hubbard Brook early in their careers. Many people approached me to say they had chased birds and counted caterpillars as part to the study 20+ years earlier, and that the experience profoundly influenced the way they understand forest structure, species coexistence, and other fundamental aspects of ecology. I appreciated that we are strongly influenced by the work and thinking of those who train us, that we become part of an interconnected scientific community, and that in turn we make individual contributions and influence the thinking of others.
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