Return to Konnevesi

Winter is finally over in Finland (although you wouldn’t always guess it from the weather) so the bird population in Konnevesi can once again relax and get on with the important things, like having babies.

Last year I posted a rather morose description of our struggles to catch enough birds following two bad breeding seasons. I’m happy to report that we did in fact get a decent season in 2016, in fact midsummer was actually sunny! As a result catching was much easier this winter.

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Exhibit A – a slightly blurry Willow tit 

But the joy is somewhat short-lived as this May has been one of the coldest on record. I won’t actually be working with the birds this coming winter (I’m off to warmer climes) but I hope this cold weather hasn’t hit them too hard…

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Fun with Spiders

This September I was lucky enough to go to Hamburg for a couple of weeks to run some predation experiments with spiders. The experiments were part of a collaboration with Prof. Susanne Dobler and Prof. Jutta Schneider to test the effects of the wood tiger moth’s defence fluids on model spider predators (in this case Nephila senegalensis and Larinioides sclopetarius). Stay tuned for the results!

 

 

Summer fieldwork round-up

Since I didn’t have the time to post any fieldwork news this summer I will instead pack it all into a single post. Efficiency!

As always summer is moth collection time, and this year I was in two countries: Estonia and Scotland.

Estonia was first. We went as a team of four, planning to stay a week and catch around 30 moths. In the end, thanks to some very warm weather, we got that number in the first 3 days and were able to return early.

I went to Scotland on my own as most of the lab were off catching in Georgia (the country, not the state). I had a bit of a worrying start, catching a grand total of one moth in the first two days. Scotland is always a bit tricky, unlike in Finland and Estonia, where the moths can generally be found on the edge of woods, in Scotland we generally find them on coastal meadows. This makes for some very scenic fieldwork, but also greatly increases the amount of climbing involved, and the risk of running off the edge of a cliff while chasing them. In the end, despite some less-than-ideal weather, I manged to get 15 moths to inject some much-needed genetic diversity into our lab population.

So once again I missed out on the beauty and excitement of Georgia (where the moths live at the top of mountains!) Still I was able to stock up on Scotch whisky in duty free, and there is always next year…

More fun with tiny dinosaurs

Winter has come to Finland in all its snowy glory and that can mean only one thing. Back to Konnevesi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I already did one experiment with the Great Tits before Christmas, but now I am back to working with the Blue Tits, and all the joys and frustrations that entails. To celebrate the arrival of WiFi in the bird house I decided to live-tweet one full day of bird fun.

I started by introducing my participants for the day…

(Getting photos of them proved tricky)

We were all set to go, but problems began almost immediately.

Still there was some good news.

and soon we had our first success of the day!

By this time is was already midday and B48 still hadn’t eaten.

But even that was not enough.

So with not much happening it was time for some random facts!

As well as a discussion of the relative merits of Blue vs Great Tits.

All the while the Blue Tits continued to be uncooperative.

I started to consider bring out another bird. B42.

And the troubles continued.

Frustrations started to show.

But finally…

And we had our second success of the day.

But with the afternoon almost gone would that be the last?

It was time for a new addition.

But would B6 come through for us?

With one final success it was time to finish for the day. I normally aim to do 4 birds a day so 3 isn’t so bad.

Behavior 2015

A few weeks ago to returned from Behavior 2015 in Cairns and now I have finally gotten around to writing about how it went.

I was there both to give a talk on my post-doc work with the moths, and to present a poster on some of the ideas that have come out of my PhD. A bit cheeky I know but if you’re going to fly halfway around the world you may as well make the most of it!

I usually struggle to attract attention to my posters so when I saw that poster presenters at Behavior also had the option of giving a one minute speed talk I signed up right away! What I didn’t realise at the time is that this talk had to be given straight after the first plenary, to the entire conference. So it was with some concern that I started preparing my speed talk. Once I had put together something sensible-sounding I practiced it on my lab. That version was considered far too boring to stand out on a Monday morning and so my final version consisted mostly of asking the audience if unanswered questions about the recent seal on penguin sex story kept them awake at night. The answer was clearly yes as I had more people come to my poster than ever before! If you are wondering what on earth my work could possibly have to do with seals sexually harassing penguins then take a look at my poster below.

My Poster

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Not everyone focused on that particular finding of course…

My talk also went well. I was speaking in the chemical communication session. Perhaps one of the take-home messages of this was that birds sense of smell is clearly hugely important in a variety of contexts. Not least for my work, it seems that the smell of the wood tiger moth’s chemical defenses may be just as important, if not more so, than the taste.

Other than the chemical communication session I particularly enjoyed the sessions on Costs and Conflict in Reproduction and Polyandry “beyond the individual”. One of my favorite talks was by Simon Griffith on the factors that influence the levels of extra-pair paternity in birds. He showed evidence that the presence of sub, or sister, species may drive extra-pair paternity due to selection for compatible genotypes.

I also wish I could have seen more of the session on animal contests as they were some awesome talks going on in there. As always with these big conferences it’s impossible to see every talk you wanted. The overall quality was very high though so at least I didn’t leave feeling like I had missed more good talks than I saw! I should mention here my appreciation for the active twitter hashtag, as it can easily alert you to interesting-looking talks going on in other rooms so, if nothing else, you can look up the abstract afterwards.

By far  the most memorable talk was the ASSAB Public Lecture by Professor Rick Shine. His work on the can toad invasion over that past decade is fascinating. Not least because we got a brief introduction to “toads on tour”, the convoluted rout the cane toad has taken across the globe as it has been introduced to one country after another. His work also has some hopeful findings, despite the rapid spread of the cane toad many native Australian species seem to be adapting to their presence, and his labs work on chemical signalling in the tadpoles is already finding new ways to control their numbers.

Of course I should also mention that all my lab mates also gave excellent talks on everything from the moths, to snake conservation, to the ever-present risk of colorblind chickens.

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I was initially going to try and cover my extra-curricular adventures in oz here was well but given the length of this I think I shall instead save that for another post…

Excuses, excuses….

Peer review can be frustratingly slow. For once I am not complaining about one of my own papers, but rather a paper I have been hoping to cover in a blog post for….oh the last 8 months. Unfortunately said paper is still not out and so instead I just look sadly at my mostly-written blog post about once a month as it becomes gradually less and less topical. So that’s my excuse for the current lack on content on this blog.

Who knows, maybe my frustration will even drive me to submit my own reviews before the journals start sending me “gentle” reminder emails…maybe.

Do the benefits of polyandry scale with outbreeding?

My latest paper is available though advanced access in Behavioral Ecology. Sadly my beautiful diagrams are relegated to the supplementary materials so I will instead put them here in all their colorful glory!

Diagram showing the design of experiment 1. Females (on the left) were paired twice with either one or two males from one of the four treatments. Red bugs indicate Lygaeus equestris while yellowbugs indicate Lygaeus simulans.
Diagram showing the design of experiment 1. Females (on the left) were paired twice with either one or two males from one of the four treatments. Red bugs indicate Lygaeus equestris while yellow bugs indicate Lygaeus simulans.
Diagram showing the design of experiments 2 and 3. Females (on the left) were paired with two males according to the four treatments. Red bugs indicate Lygaeus equestris while yellow bugs indicate Lygaeus simulans. The brush indicated that males were washed with hexane prior to being introduced to the female.
Diagram showing the design of experiments 2 and 3. Females (on the left) were paired with two males according to the four treatments. Red bugs indicate Lygaeus equestris while yellow bugs indicate Lygaeus simulans. The brush indicated that males were washed with hexane prior to being introduced to the female.