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Conserving Canada’s Wetlands

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Graduate fellowships

Educating the next generation of conservation scientists is critical in ensuring Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) continues achieving success towards its mission of abundance wetlands and waterfowl – today, tomorrow and forever. We support 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 we currently support:

2014 Fellowship Winners:

David Iles

David Iles

Bonnycastle Fellowship in Wetland and Waterfowl Biology

Thesis: Effects of climate change on waterfowl phenology, trophic interactions, and demography, Department of Wildland Resources and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, Utah

The most widespread ecological impacts associated with recent climate change are shifts in timing (i.e., phenology) of species life cycle events. These shifts may occur at multiple levels within food webs, which may have implications for waterfowl if their life cycle events become mismatched with seasonal patterns in food availability, presence of predators, or both.

Migratory waterfowl may be particularly susceptible to climate-driven mismatches, since traditional cues encountered during migration may become less predictive of conditions on distant breeding grounds, reducing their ability to time arrival to maximize breeding success.

David’s research will help manage Lesser Snow Geese by examining how climate-related changes in plant phenology and polar bear behavior are likely to influence goose populations under climate change scenarios. His objectives are to:

Jennifer ProvencherProvencher in field

Bonnycastle Fellowship in Wetland and Waterfowl Biology

Thesis: Assessing multiple stressors in northern waterfowl: parasites and pollution, why both may matter to conservation, Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON

Reproduction in waterfowl can be influenced by nutrients available for egg laying, incubation, and brood rearing. Some species rely largely on internal nutrients such as fat and protein for reproduction. Thus factors that influence amounts of those stored nutrients, also known as body condition, can indirectly influence breeding success and, hence, waterfowl abundance. Parasites and contaminants are two such factors that may increase negative effects of each other through complex relationships. For example, females exposed to contaminants such as mercury may have a compromised immune system, which then decreases her ability to fight parasites that consume internal nutrients.

Mercury burdens in arctic wildlife have been increasing. Meanwhile, with warming climatic conditions in polar ecosystems, parasites are predicted to be an increasing risk for arctic waterfowl. Given changing environmental conditions in Canada’s north, understanding how both parasites and contaminants drive reproduction is a key to predicting potential changes in population dynamics.

Jennifer’s research will work closely with northern communities to assess potential for contaminants and parasites to influence populations of northern Common Eiders. Her objectives are to:

Hannah Specht

Specht_Fieldowrk1

Bonnycastle Fellowship for Prairie Ecosystem Studies

Thesis: The impacts of prairie potholes oil development on habitat use of upland-nesting waterbirds, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN

The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) is known as core habitat for grassland-wetland species. Approximately one-third of the PPR overlaps the Bakken Formation, where an impending tenfold increase in oil and gas wells is forecasted to change 20% of remaining high-quality grassland. Landscape changes and human-related activity are known to make animals avoid good habitat within disturbed areas (among other responses), which further reduces habitat available for sensitive species.

Hannah’s research will evaluate the response of low-density, grassland-nesting waterbird species (Marbled Godwit, Willet, Wilson’s Phalarope and Northern Pintail) to oil well density and proximity in Western North Dakota. She will study distribution patterns (occupancy) relative to development at a landscape scale and avoidance of infrastructure and disturbance at a local scale.

Ongoing Fellowship Research:

Adam Jankeadam janke

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.

David Johns

David Johns

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:

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.

David MessmerMessmer field photo_Medium

Olin Fellowship

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:

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.

Christopher MalachowskiMalachowski_DU photo

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:

This information will help inform efforts to estimate population size, develop population models, and identify factors most limiting population growth of the Hawaiian duck.


View a list of previous students and their research.

Learn how you can submit a research proposal or apply for a fellowship grant.