Featured people and sites
Meena Sivagowre Sritharan
Hello! My name is Meena and I am a PhD researcher at The Australian National University, Canberra. I love and am captivated by the wonderful world of plants. In my undergraduate degree I received first-class honours in ecology, where I looked to see if our native Australian alpine plants were changing over time. I hope to continue working with and among plants and become a plant ecologist once I complete my PhD on ‘what makes plants rare’. Naturally rare species can become threatened due to changing conditions brought by climate change like extreme and frequent fires. Common species can be susceptible to becoming rare too. As Earth enters its sixth mass extinction event, a better understanding of the drivers of plant rarity and how they may be connected to the vulnerability of species facing extinction is critical for guiding effective conservation and management. In my pursuit to answer this question, I have been looking at how environmental processes may influence plant rarity.
Kentällä- In the field features a passionate bird researcher from Australia - Sho Rapley! "My name is Shoshana and I’m an ecologist based in Canberra, Australia. Growing up in New Zealand I had a lot of exposure to conservation and spent time in fenced conservation sanctuaries. I remember seeing Kaka - a large and boisterous endemic parrot - in Wellington, which had spilled over from Zealandia sanctuary into the suburbs. Experiencing first-hand the benefits of sanctuaries made me optimistic we could protect and restore nature. Currently, I’m researching warabin (bush stone-curlews, pictured) at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary. We’ve been reintroducing them here since 2014 after a 40 year absence, and I’m hopeful that one day we will be able to reintroduce species beyond the fence."
MiguelDavid De Leon
It is impressive what dedication and love for wildlife can accomplish, and just a wonderful example of this is our featured field biologist MiguelDavid De Leon. Our followers will remember our previous post about Miguel being the first to photograph a fledgling South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher (Ceyx mindanensis Steere, 1890), but there is a lot more to this amazing story that deserves to be shared. This is a story that makes you feel good to know that there are people like Miguel out there, so please read on! “Wildlife and biodiversity is disappearing off the planet faster than we can study or discover it” says Miguel as I talk to him from his home on the south Philippine island of Mindanao. Mindanao happens to be a biodiversity hotspot and home to many endemic species, and perhaps many more that we do not yet know about. Being fully aware of the loss of biodiversity on the planet, Miguel has been on the front lines of recording what new diversity there is to be found. He and his colleagues in the Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy have dedicated long hours to the photography and documenting of the behavior and life history of birds in the region. He is studying cryptic bird species and has found a bird and a mammal yet unidentified making them candidates for new species. He is publishing his work in scientific journals and correcting misconceptions about species and filling in the other information that we don’t yet know about. What is the diet of the South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher? How do their fledglings behave? What is the nesting behavior of the Short-billed Brown-dove? Miguel and his colleagues know the answers to these questions from countless hours of observation from blinds that they build themselves from bamboo, palm fronds and banana leaves. Miguel’s work has recently jumped into headlines after the shot of the dwarf kingfisher melted hearts around the globe. The fledgling is now the poster child of his and the Conservancy’s work, and you might expect that this is a large research group behind all of this work. In fact, not one member of the Conservancy is a full time biologist. Instead this is a group of part-time naturalists and citizen scientists made up of pilots, an artist and even a military strategist that have dedicated their free time to documenting biodiversity. Miguel has had some training from his undergrad biology courses, but his day job is that of a vitreoretinal surgeon. One day, when he retires, Miguel says that he will dedicate all of his time to biology, but for now his work as an eye surgeon also has some great side benefits that many full time field biologists can only dream of. The Bukidnon region has a long history of being a difficult destination for scientists. In fact, when the first naturalists interested in orchids visited the region, they were threatened with death by the indigineous tribes and had to leave the Bukidnon forests unsurveyed. However, some of Miguel’s patients and household and farm staff are from the Bukidnon region, and through them he has gained their trust and the access to the forests there. He has been introduced to the rituals that must be done before entering the forest and knowing that a big part of trust is rooted in acknowledging the ways of locals he has offered a pig or chicken or tossed coins as part of the forest entering ritual. The result of Miguel’s forays into the Bukidnon forest is four scientific publications featuring 30 new species of orchids.
Nadja Verspagen, our featured researcher this week, appears to have a very close relationship with her Glanville fritillary butterflies at least judging by the picture below! Besides laying eggs in a heart-shaped pattern, the butterflies are helping her to answer questions about just how adaptable a species can be to environmental changes, an especially important question to address with climate change altering environments at an increasingly fast pace. The Glanville fritillary is found across much of Europe, but it is not a migratory species and populations of Glanvilles living in Finland experience a much different environment than those in southern Europe. So it’s clear the species does have the ability to survive in different environments, but just how does it do it? If a hypothetical butterfly from the cool climate of Finland were transferred to the heat of Spain, would it change its behavior and continue on just as a Spanish butterfly would, or would it have trouble doing things like the locals do? If the butterfly’s genes are specifically adapted to its own home, being transferred to a new place will almost certainly make it difficult to survive. In her PhD project, Nadja aims to find out to what extent Glanvilles have the genetic variability to deal with the changing climate. Using individuals from different populations from northern Europe all the way to the south and studying them in the exact same environments in the lab, she will be able to figure out precisely how much of their behavior is due to their genes. Knowing this will give her an idea how this species will fare as the climate continues to change.
Exciting news from Kenya! As part of her PhD thesis, Hanna Rosti and colleagues have identified what look to be two mammal species that are new to science, the Taita mountain dwarf galago and the Taita tree hyrax. Hanna has spent a ton of time #inthefield to track down these nocturnal mammals from the environs of the University of Helsinki's Taita hills research station. Read more in Hanna's blog here: https://animalstaita.com/2020/02/12/taita-mountain-dwarf-galago-paragalago-sp/
Dr. Watuwa James
For Dr. Watuwa James, a typical day #inthefield might include rescuing a snared elephant, collaring a lion or surveying mountain gorilla populations for the Ugandan and Rwandan governments. Taking care of animals has been a part of life since childhood and his love for wildlife inspired him to become a veterinarian. After graduating as a veterinary surgeon from Makerere University university Dr.Watuwa became concerned how oil exploration might affect wildlife with a focus on elephant well-being. Watuwa points out that the oil industry has great potential to contribute to Uganda’s economic development, but at the same time the activities involved in exploration and development can have detrimental impacts on sensitive ecosystems. Oil exploration within Murchison Falls National Park poses a threat to the African bush elephant’s habitat through degradation and fragmentation which may lead to increased stress and susceptibility to disease. Through his MSc degree in wildlife health and management at Makerere University his research is focused on quantifying stress hormones in elephants’ feces as an indicator of their physiological stress and parasite burden in order to measure the potential impact of the anthropogenic disturbances, oil exploration on elephant populations and to evaluate trends over time. But this is just one of the many conservation projects that Watuwa is involved in through the Elgon wildlife conservation organisation (EWCO) that he founded to help the cause of wildlife in Uganda. For example, EWCO’s amphibian and reptile conservation project has been at the forefront of identifying and conservation of amphibian species and promoting knowledge of them in Ugandan communities. EWCO’s work has gained recognition from the Conservation Optimism, ATBC, and Amphibian Survival Alliance, for which Watuwa was nominated as one of their future leaders of amphibian conservation. Watuwa started his whole career in wildlife medicine and conservation by volunteering, and he would be grateful to give the same opportunity to others. The EWCO organization welcomes interns, volunteers and researchers to Uganda. It you are interested, please contact them and visit their website for more information: https://www.elgonwildlifeconservation.org/
Professor Virpi Lummaa
Do elephants need their grandmothers? Our scientist #inthefield, Prof. Virpi Lummaa, will tell you that having a grandmother around gives an elephant calf a much better survival rate. Not only that, when grandmothers are close by, their daughters have more calves. Amazingly, this ‘grandmother effect’ is something that we as humans have in common with elephants, and shows the important part that grandmothers play in the rearing of offspring. Virpi’s research on humans and elephants has benefitted from the preindustrial church registers of Finland, to the records kept by forest elephant workers of Myanmar, allowing insight into human and elephant societies. India and Myanmar hold the largest wild populations of Asian elephants in the world, but conservation is necessary to ensure their future. Spending countless hours #inthefield in Myanmar has allowed Virpi and her team from the University of Turku and Myanmar Timber Enterprise to learn what can be done to improve animal health and welfare. In the coming weeks we will introduce you to the fieldwork and the people that are working to improve the lives of working elephants and in turn help conserve the wild populations. Be sure to follow the elephant research on Twitter @MyanmarElephant and explore the project's website: http://elephant-project.science/
How is it possible to see without eyes? Lauren Sumner-Rooney, our featured scientist #inthefield this week, has been investigating just that Bocas del Toro Research Station in Panama. The evolution of vision and the eye is a puzzle that has fascinated researchers over the centuries and Charles Darwin himself remarked how amazingly complex products of evolution eyes are. But there is not just one way to develop the ability to see, and Lauren has found an organism, the brittle star, that has followed an alternative pathway. Brittle stars are able to seek shelter from predators by finding and hiding in the nooks and crannies of reefs. But how is it that an organism with no eyes can do this? Lauren has shown they use light sensing cells located all over their bodies to sense contrasts in light. But it is not as simple as just that, another brittle star species with the same type of cells does not sense light, but the brittle star with vision has a trick up its sleeve. By changing colour to red it changes the angle of light entering the cells, making the sensing of contrasts in light possible. Amazing how a colour change can turn the lights on for a brittle star that otherwise would be in the dark! Lauren’s and her colleagues’ discovery made international headlines last week and you can learn more about their work here: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/uoo-seo121919.php. To keep up with the amazing work that Lauren does at the University of Oxford be sure to follower her Twitter account @Lauren_hSR.
Kentällä - In the field features wildlife biologists from all over the world and today we have Annika Herrero from the University of Helsinki, Finland in the spotlight. For her PhD Annika researches patterns of kinship in the Eurasian lynx and spending long days #inthefield tracking the elusive lynx has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of her work. Annika has found that female home ranges frequently overlap and that in these cases there is often a close relative (sister, mother or daughter) living nearby. Perhaps genetic relatedness is a more important aspect of this solitary living species than originally thought! Annika's work has been done in cooperation with Luonnonvarakeskus and NIBIO. Annika is also a great nature photographer and her instagram page is definitely worth a visit: https://www.instagram.com/wildelligent/
Kentällä - In the field features the work of conservationists from around the world and today we welcome Alex Ngabirano from Uganda to our spotlight. Many times the most important conservation efforts #inthefield are those that address the problems that we as people have created ourselves and Alex's work is an excellent example of this. Through his work with Conservation Through Public Health and Bwindi Development Network, Alex has helped to reduce the spread of human and livestock diseases to mountain gorillas, educated locals and developed alternatives to poaching. Alex has created the first Bwindi Reformed Poacher Centre in Uganda for uniting and reforming local people who are still engaging themselves in poaching wildlife animals. If you happen to be in Uganda, don't leave without visiting the centre and meet Alex in person. Thanks to Alex and his colleagues the population is increasing from 400 in the previous year to 459 gorillas now roaming Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda. Keep up the excellent work Alex! https://bwindidevelopmentnetwork.org/
Kentällä - In the field features the work of field biologists from around the world and today we welcome Australian ecologist Belinda Wilson to our spotlight. For her PhD work Belinda is investigating the reintroduction biology of the endangered eastern quoll, and as a volunteer she coordinates flying fox monitoring for the Australian Bat Society. Belinda recently won an award for her outreach efforts and you can easily see why: her Facebook page Belinda Wilson - Ecologist is definitely worth following! https://belindawilsonresearch.weebly.com/