Educating the next generation of conservation scientists is critical in ensuring DUC continues achieving success towards its mission of abundance wetlands and waterfowl – today, tomorrow and forever. DUC supports a number of graduate students annually as they pursue important research across the continent. Every year, students throughout North America apply for these prestigious fellowships, and the competition is fierce.
Here are some of the talented young scientists DUC currently supports:
2013 Fellowship Winners:
DUC-MBNA Canada Bank Conservation Fellowship
Thesis: Landscape-level breeding ecology in prairie ducks: Patterns in settlement, reproduction, survival and physiology.
Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Agricultural intensification in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) has replaced much of the grassland and wetland habitat with annual grain and oilseed production. Landscape change may impact the ability of waterfowl to survive and breed successfully, so understanding the mechanisms of impact is critical for waterfowl management and conservation strategies. Impacts of landscape change on breeding birds may be both exogenous (e.g., affecting predation rates), or endogenous (e.g., affecting individual energy allocation).
This study will examine sources of variation in duck reproductive success across landscape gradients ranging from cropland-dominated to intact native grasslands. Primary objectives are to:
- determine brood- rearing habitat selection and consequences for female and duckling survival,
- examine the influence of individual physiology and past reproductive history on future reproductive performance,
- identify habitat selection patterns and trade offs between breeding effort and brood production.
This study will use a combination of existing long-term datasets, and recently collected field data on waterfowl breeding effort and reproductive success from across the PPR. A novel method of examining corticosterone deposited in feather tissue will be used to index past energetic status. Results of this project will benefit researchers and managers in attempts to better understand the effect of habitat modification on waterfowl.
Read this article on David’s project from the University of Saskatchewan Campus News. This article first ran as part of the 2013 Young Innovators series, an initiative of the U of S Research Profile office in partnership with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
Edward D. and Sally M. Futch Graduate Fellowship
Thesis: Evaluating Wetland-ecosystem Health in the Prairie Pothole Region Using Real-time Nutrient Dynamics of Waterfowl
Department of Natural Resources Management, South Dakota State University, Brooking, SD USA
The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the United States and Canada is one of the most productive wetland and grassland ecosystems in the world, making the region both ecologically and economically important. Economic drivers have resulted in widespread wetland drainage and grassland conversion to agriculture throughout the 20th century, which has exerted both direct and indirect impacts on remaining prairie wetlands. My research will attempt to understand the relationship between agricultural land use intensity and wetland quality for waterfowl during spring migration. I will do this by using concentrations of key lipid and protein metabolites in blood plasma as an indicator of short-term physiological responses of waterfowl to wetland quality during spring migration.
Wetlands within study sites distributed across an agricultural intensity gradient (low, medium and high row crop production) in the PPR of South Dakota will be sampled using traditional indicators of wetland quality, such as waterfowl abundance, vegetation composition, physiochemical metrics, and invertebrate abundance and diversity. Additionally, blood samples will be collected from female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) and blue-winged teal (Anas discors) on the same wetlands to measure plasma metabolite concentrations. Land use and extent of drained and extant wetland basins on each site also will be quantified and used along with information from sampled wetlands to investigate the relationship between short-term nutrient dynamics, agricultural land use intensity, and wetland quality. Identifying agricultural influences on prairie wetlands will highlight targets for waterfowl conservation and management in agricultural landscapes throughout the PPR.
Thesis: The Effect of Wetland Abundance, Spring Phenology, and Landscape Productivity on Breeding Ducks in the Western Boreal Forest
Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
The Western Boreal Forest (WBF) of Canada and Alaska supports large numbers and diversity of migrating and breeding ducks. Recent evidence indicates this region is experiencing long term climate change indicated by higher annual temperatures, decreased snow cover duration, earlier onset of spring, and increased primary productivity. These changes have the potential to change both the abundance and the quality of wetland habitat. Within the broad goal of understanding processes governing fluctuations in WBF duck populations, specific objective are to:
- examine the relationship of breeding duck abundance with satellite-acquired time-series data of wetland abundance and spring phenology,
- examine how variation in the timing of breeding for ducks or their prey may produce differing population-level responses to changing spring phenology.
Discovering relationships between habitats, environmental conditions, and duck populations, and exploring why these relationships may differ among species, will inform conservation and management decisions for populations using this region.
Dr. Bruce DJ Batt Fellowship in Waterfowl Conservation
Thesis: Factors influencing habitat selection, movement patterns, and population dynamics of the endangered Hawaiian duck (Anas wyvilliana) on Kaua’i
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR USA
The Hawaiian duck (Anas wyvilliana) is the only endemic dabbling duck remaining in the main Hawaiian Islands. Significant population decline has led to endangered status; however, little is known about the relative impact of population threats (wetland loss, introduced predators) on movement patterns, habitat use, and population demographics (e.g., adult and nest survival).
This research will employ a combination of radio and satellite telemetry, and band-resight surveys to address the following three objectives:
- identify factors affecting daily and seasonal movement patterns and habitat selection,
- quantify the effect of sex and life-history stage on adult survival,
- determine the influence of landscape type, topographic features, and vegetation characteristics on nest site selection and nest survival.
This information will help inform efforts to estimate population size, develop population models, and identify factors most limiting population growth of the Hawaiian duck.
Ongoing Fellowship Research:
Bonnycastle Fellowship for Prairie Ecosystem Studies
Thesis: The Recovery of Ecosystem Function and Biodiversity in Restored Prairie Wetlands
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB
This multi-disciplinary study has two primary objectives:
- to comprehensively evaluate wetland restoration by assessing ecosystem function (biogeochemical processes) and biodiversity at multiple trophic levels; and
- to test hypotheses about the relationship between ecosystem function and biodiversity.
Lauren hopes this work will enhance our understanding of ecosystem recovery and lend insight into the ecological integrity of restored wetlands.
Bonnycastle Fellowship in Wetland and Waterfowl Biology
Thesis: Dynamics of Disease: The Origins and Ecology of Avian Cholera in Northern Canada
Department of Veterinary Pathology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK
This research project combines extensive fieldwork with cutting-edge molecular techniques and aims to identify proximate and ultimate sources of avian cholera outbreaks, document occurrence and spread of disease outbreaks, and examine the effect of the disease on eiders in relation to measures of health at individual and population levels.
Avian cholera, a bacterial disease caused by Pasteurella multocida has recently emerged in Canada’s eastern Arctic, causing large-scale annual mortality at the largest Canadian common eider breeding colony (East Bay Island (EBI), NU. Each summer, eiders on EBI will be captured, banded, and sampled. Eiders will be monitored during the breeding season to evaluate reproductive success and survival. Samples from apparently healthy eiders, other avian species, and the environment will be screened for P. multocida using molecular techniques, and P. multocida isolates will be compared using novel genotyping techniques to evaluate sources of the pathogen and explore transmission dynamics. The role of pre-breeding infection status and stress will be examined in relation to condition, reproductive success and survival. Field surveys and disease sample collections from eiders and snow geese will occur at additional sites in Nunavut and northern Quebec.
View a list of previous students and their research.