Research

 

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I am broadly interested in communication, animal behaviour, adaptation, community ecology, and conservation.  Particularly, I have a great love of waterbirds, and am generally interested in all aspects of these birds but am not limited to projects that include them. I am most captivated by projects that integrate multiple ideas and disciplines.

Empirical tests of predictive models to conserve Canada’s wetlands

Waterbirds play a key role in wetland ecosystems and are reliable indicators of wetland health and quality.  Current survey methods are costly, time-consuming and species specific and also do not provide key knowledge on waterbird populations required to effectively conserve wetland ecosystems. Modelling is a promising, cost-effective method for predicting waterbird diversity and abundance.My doctoral research uses an integrative approach that empirically tests the ability of predictive models to estimate waterbird populations.

Avian nocturnal vocalizations

Most avian vocalization research has traditionally focused on the daytime vocalizations of diurnal birds. Although some iconic species such as owls,  loons, and nightingales are well-known to vocalize at night, nocturnal vocalizations have received comparatively less attention. With the exception of migratory flight calls, nocturnal vocalizations are considered to be rare. No prior study has examined the occurrence of nocturnal vocalizations across species to determine how prevalent they might be. Across 749 species in North America, over 30% birds vocalize at night across 18 of 22 orders, of which over 70% are diurnal, indicating that nocturnal vocalizations are more prevalent than traditionally believed.This review paper  is currently in press in the journal Condor.

Fish kill practice and investigation

One of the world’s most valuable resources is fish.Fish kills are large mass die-offs of fish that occur worldwide. These fish kills can result in up to several million dead fish, resulting in severe economic and ecological losses.  However, there is little research available on this subject. I collaborated with Dr. Steven Cooke on a synthesis project that sought  to provide a framework to advance the science and practice of fish kill investigation.This research is published in the journal Reviews in Fisheries Science.

Common Loon signalling strategies and landscape communication networks

Common Loons are one of Canada’s most iconic symbols.  Despite their haunting and recognizable nocturnal calls, very little research has delved into the patterns of their vocal behaviour. I used an Acoustic Monitoring System to examine Common Loon vocal behaviour. My Masters research demonstrated that Loons are reactive to their immediate acoustic environment and alter their vocal behaviour in response to changing natural conditions. Key findings included (1) that Common Loons vocalize more at night during the day, (2) that their signals transmit farther when at night when they are most vocally active and (3) that Loons directly decrease vocal activity with increasing wind speeds.
My research also demonstrated  that Loons communicate in large scale communication networks that span several kilometres. Analysis of over 5000 vocal interactions demonstrated that most vocal interactions begin with yodel calls, and can include up to seven participants from different territories. These landscape scale interactions span both within and between lakes across several kilometres, and are one of the largest networks demonstrated to occur in birds.

American Robin urban nesting behaviour

Every day, urban expansion is changing natural landscapes. My honours research sought to determine if urbanization has repercussions on songbirds, namely the American robin.I used a multivariate approach to determine what factors govern American Robin nest presence and height.Detailed quantitative analysis indicated that anthropogenic noise, foraging optimality, tree type, and field of view were not correlated with nesting height nor presence. However, we did find a very strong similarities with landscape parameters among parks, indicating that urban landscapes are likely homogenous and are unlikely to provide much biodiversity as they seek to achieve.