Undergraduate and graduate students from Trent’s Conservation Biology, Biomedical Sciences and Environmental & Life Sciences programs are collaborating on a summer field research project to examine the impact of global warming on the ability of tree swallows to feed and care for their young.
“Our students have been monitoring tree swallows in the Trent Nature Areas and Lakefield Lagoons for a number of years during the summer months,” says Dr. Gary Burness, Biology professor at Trent. “This year’s research, led by Bronwen Hennigar, a Ph.D. student in the Environmental and Life Sciences program, is a follow-up of a study conducted by Dr. Simon Tapper in 2017/18 on how female tree swallows could feed their nestlings without overheating in hot weather.”
Two undergraduate students, Kaitlyn Baker and Sophia Turi, have joined Bronwen in the field, assisting with daily tasks, such as weighing, measuring, and determining the sex of chicks, as well as data collection.
A glimpse of the future
For newcomer to the group, first-year Conservation Biology student Sophia Turi, this experience is a fantastic way to dip her toes into what her future career, or even post-graduate studies, will be like.
“This is a great opportunity to see what being a Ph.D. student involves and the things you need to be prepared for,” explains Sophia. “Working out in the field, and learning how to work with animals and what it takes to handle them also gives me a taste of what my career will be like. I’m so happy to be here!”
After enjoying a course with Professor Burness, Sophia grabbed the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field. This will stand her in good stead in later years when she applies for the Conservation Biology program’s co-op stream.
“We always encourage our students to build connections with their faculty and peers from the get-go, and Sophia is a good example of the advantages of this,” says Prof. Burness. “I immediately recognized her name when she reached out because she was always actively engaging in the discussions and asking questions in my first-year Biology class.”
Applying knowledge to a different field
Fourth year Biomedical Sciences student, Kaitlyn Baker, jumped at the opportunity to combine her interests in human health and field research by joining the project and finds that the overlap between the fields is providing her with new insight into the role heat plays in exercise ability.
“There's a lot of research being done in animals that can be translated over to humans,” she explains. “For example, we’re looking at whether heat is a limiting factor to the exercise ability of the birds. Well that's easily applicable to humans as well – could it be that heat is a limiting factor to how fast or how far we can run? It's pretty cool to be able to branch out and try something different as well.”
With the support of Prof. Burness, Kaitlyn received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award to gain hands-on research experience during the course of the summer.
“It’s really exciting for me to be able to get research experience this summer by helping Bronwen to conduct her fieldwork,” said Kaitlyn. “Being able to say that I’ve received an NSERC Research Award and have had the opportunity to work alongside other researchers in the field is going to be huge when applying to Master’s programs.”
The research continued until the end of June, with the group monitoring the birds’ behaviour and temperatures with readers mounted to each nesting box.