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Current Research

Braddock Bay Bird Observatory  supports research conducted by our own internal staff, as well as by professors and graduate students at various universities.  Here is a list of our current projects and their lead investigators.

Bird flight calling behavior

Researcher:  Chelsea Wisner, under the guidance of Dr. Sara Morris of Canisius College

There are many unanswered questions about bird communications, especially during migration. The MARS (Mobile Avian Recording Studio) trailer allows acoustic isolation of birds to study their responses to sound cues to see what factors may be affecting the likelihood and rate of calling by individual birds. Our first study showed that birds responded more to birds than non-birds, that birds are likely to respond when they hear flight calls, and they respond more to their own species than to other species. We are now working on four additional questions: how much variation in flight calling responses exist both within and among species, how does energetic condition of the birds affect their calling rate, is there a difference in the rates and types of responses by season (spring versus fall), and what is the effect of different rates of calls on flight calling behavior. Our study on light is based on several suggestions by Mark Deutschlander and others who have worked with captive birds on orientation and migratory restlessness. Our study on the effect of different rates of calls is investigating whether the birds are responding more when they hear higher or lower numbers of calls (simulating more birds calling or fewer birds calling).

Telomere length in passerines

Researcher:  Dr. Greg Cunningham, St. John Fisher College

Life always dramatically ends with death. However, the rate of ageing, the progressive decrease in reproduction and survival rates all dramatically differ among species. Telomere erosion appears to reflect ageing in a broad variety of animals. Telomeres are the ends of linear chromosomes of eukaryotes, and shorten progressively with time, cell replication or stress during life. Once reaching a low threshold in length, telomere-related signaling pathways trigger cell apoptosis, a phenomenon related to organism survival/lifespan.

We need more interspecific and intraspecific comparisons of telomere dynamics to determine how this cell mechanism is actually linked with longevity. These studies will also allow us to determine how telomere length affects features such as adult size, development time, age at maturation, or metabolic rate. Finally, a broad understanding of telomere length can be compared against more ecological factors such as species distributions and limits on the ranges of habitats that species can occupy.

We aim to explore the diversity of telomere length among the passeriforms. Due to the extreme species diversity encountered at BBBO, we envision being able to investigate how telomeres affect the big picture in life history traits. Working on this order will enable us to test how the different factors described above may have co-evolved with telomere length. We are also interested in looking at seasonal patterns of telomere length, as well as to test how climatic limit of population distribution may correspond to stress-induced telomere erosion. In addition, while our present project focuses on telomere length measurement, we already think about extending it to other ageing related processes given that storage of samples allows the use of methodologies like proteomics.

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