|Ahem, a tern|
My name is Allie Davis, I am a biology-education major, and it is finally my tern to reflect on the work I have been doing alongside Dr. Lisa Manne. If you noticed my misspelling of ‘turn,’ back there, it was completely intentional, I assure you. My research project focused on the specimen to the left: The Common Tern. The Common tern is a species of shorebird and if you did not know that, you are in the same boat I was in over a year ago. Back then, this reflection seemed to exist in a galaxy somewhere far, far away. Now, on the other side of the undergraduate research conference (which is nowhere near as scary as it sounds), the waves look a whole lot smoother.
I was beyond anxious when I really had to start thinking about a Capstone project. How do I ask a professor? Who do Ichoose? How do I find one working on something I am interested in? What if I can only find professors who are doing boring work and I have no choice but to do it anyway? Should I just drop out of Verrazano? Who needs a special graduation or priority registration anyway?
“If you’re thinking you’d rather drop out of Verrazano than do this, don’t fret. Come and see me!”
Okay, so I know two things: dropping out is not going to be an option and Cheryl in the Verrazano office might be a mind reader. As it terns out, the biology office has a whole list of professors doing active research complete with a description and an email address for your information. Fortunately for me, Dr. Lisa Manne saved me from a “meh, it’s a topic, I guess” option and I knew her from a brief research stint involving Asian Shore Crabs. Apparently, a scientist in Massachusetts, Dr. Ian Nisbet, had contacted Dr. Veit and Dr. Manne here at CSI about a forty-eight-year time series he had compiled of a bunch of Terns who settled on Bird Island near his home. He documented their nesting dates, laying dates, number of eggs laid, number of pairs of Terns that settled, and calculated how productive the birds’ reproduction was. For forty-eight years! To think I can’t even keep a journal for longer than a day.
At the time of our initial meeting, I had roughly 1% knowledge on birds, but we were talking about animals being impacted by climate change, so I was beyond intrigued. In the beginning, my project only revolved around the Common Tern, though I would find out later that there are numerous species of terns. The first step in data analysis, however, was a crash course in statistics using a program, R. After I was reasonably adequate in using it, it was time to put theory into practice. Our objective: to determine the effects of climate change on the abundance of Common Terns found on Bird Island.
Months later, I can confidently say that I have increased my knowledge to about 12%. An argument can be made for 15%. Okay, the percentages are not exactly accurate, but I wanted to slip a movie quote in here when I saw the opportunity. Avengers aside, we performed a LOT of statistical tests on the data. We wanted to leave no aspect of phenology unconsidered. I ran tests from simple t-tests between two variables (to see whether climate had a significant effect on any variables of phenology) to more complicated tests like path analysis (to determine the cause-and-effect relationships of different variables). And once we ran through all these tests with Common terns, we got MORE data. This time, we would do the same procedure as with Commons, but with their sister species, Roseate Terns (on the left). You’re probably thinking it looks identical to the Common up above, but go back and look; they ARE different.
|Allie presents her work at the Undergraduate Research Conference|
For the results, you can read my abstract (or for the brave, my entire paper), but I’ll give you the short answer. The DIRECT effects of climate change on Common Terns? Not much apparently. On Roseate Terns? Significantly more, but not enough to alert the media…YET. Because even though my Capstone research ended the day of the undergraduate conference, there’s another aspect to consider. I put emphasis on the word ‘direct’ for this reason: what about the INDIRECT effects? Maybe climate does not impact the lives of these birds as much as it impacts something like the availability of the Terns’ food source. It is measurable, attainable, and could shed some light on a different piece of Tern phenology. Lisa was able to obtain data for several fisheries in Massachusetts, so seeing whether any of that data connects with climate change will be our next step.