Seabird Ecophysiologist

Hello, I'm an ecophysiologist ~ in my work I draw on concepts from the fields of ecology and stress physiology. I use hormone and stable isotope analysis as well as biologging to study how seabird behavior and physiology reflect changes in the marine ecosystem at different temporal (time) and spatial (geographic) scales.

Recent Projects

I am particularly interested in how individual physiology interacts with foraging and migratory behavior. Currently I am involved in two primary projects. 1) We are working with the community of Savoonga, AK and epidimeologists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Wildlife Health Center to screen murres (alpa) and crested auklets (sukilpaq) for avian influenza. 2) In partnership with the National Park Service we are investigating the physiology and molt location of common murres that perished during the unprecedented 2015-2016 mass mortality event in the Gulf of Alaska.

Previous Projects

St Lawrence Island ~

We recently concluded a four year project examining how the overwintering movements of five seabird species (common and thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes, and least and crested auklets) are influenced by factors in the physical environment and an individual's physiological status. Our study site, St. Lawrence Island, is at the southern entrance to the Bering Strait in the Pacific Arctic, a region that has been experiencing rapid winter sea ice loss. Publications from this work are ongoing, in the meantime preliminary results are included in our final report.

This was a joint undertaking of the National Institute of Polar Research, Japan and the Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks. It was funded by the North Pacific Research Board and Japan's Arctic Challenge for Sustainability Project.

Bering Sea ~

When working as a seabird monitor on the Pribilof Islands for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge I, like many other seabird, seal, and fish enthusiasts before me, became intrigued by the dynamic ecosystem of the southeastern Bering Sea. As part of my PhD work I had the opportunity to examine how inter-annual changes in food availability influenced competition among breeding seabirds on St. Paul and St. George islands by comparing the isotopic niches of thick-billed and common murres, and black-legged kittiwakes in years with generally cold and generally warm ocean temperatures at a multi-decadal time scale.

The Bering Sea is also known to undergo climate regime shifts that are suspected to influence the structure and composition of regional food webs. We employed a historical ecophysiology approach to address our question: "Has the Bering Sea basin's food web changed over time?" To address this we conducted stable isotope analysis on feather samples from museum specimens and free-living red-legged kittiwakes, which feed almost exclusively in the ocean basin food web during the summer. We also investigated when and under what ocean conditions red-legged kittiwakes experienced food shortages. Currently we are examining a similar data set populated by samples from black-legged kittiwakes, common and thick-billed murres, and least auklets to understand how the shelf food webs may have changed over time.

Feather Corticosterone ~

In seabirds the concentration of the stress hormone, corticosterone, in blood is a proxy for exposure to nutritional stress (i.e. not getting enough to eat). The validation, both in the lab and as an ecologically informative tool, of the use of corticosterone concentrations in seabird feathers was a key part of my graduate work in that in enabled me to ask new questions of an extensively studied system (the Bering Sea). This tool provides a method to assess the physiological status of seabirds during periods of the year when it is not possible to collect blood samples, such as during the non-breeding period when they are at sea, away from their colonies.