Volunteers Needed for the 2017 Season!!!

Recruitment for the 2017 field season has begun! Thanks for considering volunteering on the project. I look forward to reviewing your application. 

Volunteer (unpaid) field assistants wanted for study of Hispaniolan Woodpecker behavioral ecology in the 2017 field season!

PLEASE APPLY ONLY IF YOU CAN PARTICIPATE FOR A MINIMUM OF 3.5 MONTHS OF THE FIELD SEASON AND DO NOT REQUIRE A STIPEND.

You, too, could be like these happy people!

Six to nine field assistants needed for a study of ecology of colonial, cooperative breeding and sexual size dimorphism in the Hispaniolan Woodpecker in the Dominican Republic. Field research assistants will participate in data collection during an intensive ~3.5-month or 6.5 month field season. Assistant duties will include (but are not limited to) nest monitoring, focal behavioral observations (including nest watches and foraging records), assisting with tree-climbing, color-band reading, nest-searching, assisting with bird capture and processing, and data entry. I am currently looking for:

  • Two to four FULL-term assistants are needed to arrive between 10 and 15 January (somewhat flexible) and remain until 30 July. Applications will be accepted until positions are filled, but preference will be given to those submitted by 11 October.
  • Two to four 1st half term assistants are needed to arrive between 10 and 15 January (somewhat flexible) and remain until 30 April. Applications will be accepted until positions are filled, but preference will be given to those submitted by 11 October.
  • Two to four 2nd half term assistants are needed to arrive between 15 and 20 April (flexible) and remain until 30 July. Applications will be accepted until positions are filled, but preference will be given to those submitted by 1 November. 

Location: outside of Jarabacoa and close to Salto Jimenoa I, La Vega province, Dominican Republic


Job description: The Hispaniolan Woodpecker (Melanerpes striatus) nests colonially, ranging from 2 to as many as 20+ simultaneously active nests in the same tree, making it very unique among woodpeckers (only one other picid species of the more than 200 is known to nest in such dense aggregations). Additionally, the Hispaniolan Woodpecker is the most sexually size dimorphic of Melanerpes woodpeckers. Since 2012, I have been color-banding and observing these woodpeckers to better understand the social organization of colonies. Fieldwork in the 2017 field season will focus on further studying social organization of colonies, attempting to answer such questions as:


1) How do nesting substrate (live vs. dead trees) and its availability influence colony size and structure? 

2) What information do prospecting birds utilize to "decide" where to nest, and how does this information use influence variation in colony size?


More generally, we will collect data to help test hypotheses regarding the costs, benefits, and consequences of group living, the operation of sexual selection in cooperative societies, and the evolutionary factors driving the woodpecker's exceptional size dimorphism. An important objective of our work also includes studying how parasitic fly larvae in the genus Philornis impact nesting success. A new component in the 2017 season will involve initiating a next-box experiment. 

 

Field research assistants will participate in data collection during an intensive 3.5-month (half term) or 6.5-month (full term) field season. Assistant duties will include (but are not limited to) nest monitoring, focal behavioral observations (including nest watches, dominance watches, and foraging records), assisting with tree-climbing, color-band reading, nest-searching, assisting with bird capture and processing (including metal- and color-banding), and data management and entry. All volunteers will have the opportunity to learn various tree-climbing techniques. Assistants will be trained to set up, operate, and take down a unique elevated mist-net system developed specifically for this project but with applications to other ornithological studies.


Days will be long and the work will be physically and mentally demanding, but for those seeking to gain experience in field research, you won’t be disappointed. The workweek will typically be 6 days long in humid, mosquito-filled fields and forests, involving hiking sometimes muddy, steep hills, climbing barbed-wire fences, and avoiding bulls; this work will leave you exhausted at the end of the day! Assistants will be involved in all aspects of the project, including discussions of the conceptual framework of the project.


Neotropical bird species are generally poorly known with many aspects of their natural history incomplete or wholly unknown. Hispaniola is an island with many poorly known native or endemic species that will reveal their intriguing secrets to those motivated and patient enough to look. While our work will focus primarily on Hispaniolan Woodpecker, opportunities to collect data on the island’s other avian denizens may arise, and we will exploit these opportunities when possible. Any such observations of other bird species made by field assistants may result in publications (so an added bonus of this fieldwork is the possibility of not only adding a publication to your CV but making a real contribution to our knowledge of Hispaniolan birds and Neotropical ornithology). That having been said, the woodpecker research takes priority.


Dates: 


Full term assistants- Start: ~10 January, End: ~30 July 2017. (~6.5 months)

1st Half term assistants- Start: ~10 January, End: ~30 April 2017. (~3.5 months)

2nd Half term assistants- Start: ~15 April, End: ~30 July 2017. (~3.5 months)


College graduates and undergraduates are encouraged to apply. Current college students are encouraged to apply for academic credit for their work at their home institution.

 

Salary: Housing, drinking water, and research-related travel within the Dominican Republic will be covered.

Additionally, the PI is pursuing funding options to help defray the costs of travel to/from the Dominican Republic for volunteers. However, this funding is not guaranteed so volunteers should initially plan to cover their airfare.  Assistants will have to cover their food expenses (~$30 USD per week).


Deadline: Until positions are filled. For full term and 1st half term positions, preference will be given to applications submitted by 11 October. Applications for the 2nd half term positions will be considered until 1 November.


Qualifications: Those with previous field experience (especially those who have bird-handling and/or behavioral observation experience) and a strong interest in bird behavior are highly preferred, but such skills are not absolutely necessary (indeed, I will train you with numerous field protocols). 

Other important qualifications include: 

  • 1) willingness to work very long hours in tropical conditions (that means buggy, sweaty, and very wet), 
  • 2) commitment to paying attention to detail (e.g., writing legibly) for the entire ~3.5 to 6 months of work, 
  • 3) ability to get along well with and be respectful of others in a very cramped environment (you will be in close contact with myself and three to four other field assistants for the whole 3.5 months, another PhD student and his team of one or two people, a master's student working May - August, a post-doc visiting for a month, and occasional other visitors for varying lengths of time), 
  • 4) ability and willingness to work alone or jointly in the field and to work in an area where encounters with venomous invertebrates are a real possibility (there are plenty of bees, wasps, and ants; fortunately, though, there are no venomous snakes), 
  • 5) good color vision (essential for distinguishing color-bands), 
  • 6) willingness to cook (we will prepare nearly all meals and share cooking duties), 
  • 7) willingness to contribute to general upkeep of living quarters (e.g., cleaning dishes, sweeping and cleaning the house, locking up, etc.), and 
  • 8) an open mind, and a positive, pro-active attitude. 
  • 9) Spanish language competency is a big plus but not required (though an interest and willingness to learn Spanish is required). 
  • 10) Applicants must have a strong interest in field research as a possible or definite career goal (i.e., applying because you’d like to see a tropical forest before going off to medical school is not something I’m looking for).


Additional Desired Skills: I am especially interested in having assistants with a strong background in botanical identification to help with cataloguing woodpecker food items. Digital ornithology represents another component of the work, including photo documentation of all captured birds. I am interested in having assistants with strong photographing skills to help collect and curate photographs.


Application instructions: 

Please send:

1) a cover letter (1 page) detailing your interests and career goals and how you see this internship fitting in with them,

2) a resume or CV (keep it to relevant details),

3) an unofficial transcript (or simple list of courses and grades on a spreadsheet), and

4) the names and contact information (email and phone) of 3 references (ideally with some experience with how you work in a research/field context). Please also indicate the nature of your professional relationship to EACH reference (e.g., field supervisor, academic advisor, professor for a class, etc.). 

PLEASE ONLY APPLY IF YOU DO NOT REQUIRE A STIPEND.

Contact: Joshua B. LaPergola email: jbl96 AT cornell.edu

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