Commencing testosterone and behavior project

Last week we headed out into the field for an unusual and eclectic mix of projects involving the gulls of Appledore. Normally, our goal is to focus solely on resighting any and all banded birds nesting (or just hanging around) on the island, and on banding any unbanded mates of our birds. We did try to get that done, especially the resighting, but this year, we are working on two new projects that took up a good deal of time. Here’s the scoop on the first one.

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Brett Davekos has jumped right into the work and to life on the island. The gulls may be less enthused.

Our summer intern, Brett Davekos, recent graduate with an Associate’s degree in Biology from Northern Essex Community College, is looking into whether or not variability in nest defense behavior is correlated with plasma testosterone in Great Black-Backed Gulls. This work is a collaboration between us and Dr. Kristen Covino, gullumnus, postdoc at Canisius College, and soon to be Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University.

The first phase of this work involved collecting blood for baseline testosterone. This meant sampling the birds before they got too amped up by our presence. From the first sign of alarm in the bird, we had ten minutes to trap, capture, and bleed. Fortunately, we discovered that we work a lot faster than I had thought, and we managed to collect 27 useable samples within the time constraint.

The second phase of the project will be Brett’s. He will be testing the behavioral responses to human approach in the sampled birds. It may be some months before Kristen’s lab is up and running to process the plasma samples, but keep an eye on this space for more on Brett’s work.

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