Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Bird Conference Day 2

This is a second update on my experience at the joint conference of the Cooper Ornithological Society, the American Ornithologists' Union, and the Society of Canadian Ornithologist in San Diego California. Today was the first day of the general scientific paper presentations. The conference is organized with a general plenary session first thing in the morning followed the rest of the day by six separate tracks of scientific paper presentations. The sessions were somewhat synchronized so it was possible to jump between sessions which I did on a few occasions. Each paper presentation is 14 minutes long with one minute until the next talk starts. It moves fairly fast.

It was a very educational day. I learned a great deal about avian species, the impact of climate, scientific methods, good presentation styles, and even some not so good presentation styles. I thought a lot about how to improve my own research. I want to rewrite my manuscript to make it better! I want to make it broader!

There was a small issue to start the day as the plenary speaker was stuck in the snow on the east coast. Luckily Tuesday's speaker was willing to speak a day early. The presentation was fascinating. The speaker, Ken Dial from the University of Montana, discussed the evolution of flight in birds. He strongly criticized the current approach to answering the question and the answer that most studies are reporting. He presented a multifaceted, integrated approach to answering the question focused on integrating fossil, evolutionary, life history, and current bird development knowledge into answering the question. He presented some very compelling arguments and wow'd the crowd with some of the experiments they are using to answer the question. For example, using birds in an olive oil gas suspension with lasers to observe and measure the air vortex of a flapping chick to determine the effectiveness of a partially developed wing. He also talked about the fascinating case of the mound builder birds. These are super-precocial species where the parents leave the nest before the eggs hatch. When the chick hatches and crawls out of the mound, it can fly better than an adult. This is because it has to to survive. This is an example of matching development to life history strategies. He recommends a similar integrative approach to the evolutionary question. He was very convincing but it would have been great to hear the other side of the argument.

I started the scientific sessions in one of the symposium sessions on ornithological applications focused on conservation. The sessions started with some general education talks on the endangered species act and the important of sub species designations. The ESA does support subspecies designations, but the government must look to the taxonomists in each field to define and justify the subspecies. This isn't being performed consistently in the avian world. The next talk moved into a discussion of conservation reliant birds. Some birds may fit the "preferred" endangered species formula of recovery and removal from the list. Many will not. Some will require an ongoing investment to prevent them from sliding back toward extinction. This requires a new way to look at the issues. The first morning session wrapped up with a discussion of conservation partnership between management agencies and rice farmers in the central California valley to help migrating shorebird populations. Using science they demonstrated an effective management strategy which is being deployed more broadly. It's not all bad news.

In the late morning session I moved over to the habitat and landscape sessions to hear about desert species in the Intermountain West and the effects of habitat disruption and power line right of ways in influencing different species. Bottom line, big impacts but not always what we would think. As with all changes, there are winners and losers. The last talk before lunch was focused on behavior of social manakins. This was a very cool study about how different males interact in a complex hierarchical bird society. The researchers studied the number of connections between individuals, the strength of those connections, and why the alpha male would have a different strategy than the omega male. It all comes down to reputation. Wow, is it only lunch time on the first day!

It was a beautiful sunny day here in Southern California. I enjoyed a nice walk outside for lunch!

My afternoon was dominated by the climate change sessions. Lots of studies, lots of birds, lots of methods, but one main story - bad news! Most species are moving up in elevation, north in latitude, down in population, or all of the above. Some species are reacting in different ways in different places as their historical ecological role is squeezed. I was surprised that desert species seem to be impacted more than non-desert species, likely due to the fact that they were already living on the edge.

I went for a run this evening. I was thinking about the climate change talks as I jogged by a restaurant which had a full row of outside heaters burning. There was no one sitting outside. There was no canopy to hold the heat, just pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. We don't have to eliminate all energy use, but we could definitely find some places to conserve. That was just one example. But I digress...

Quite a day! More tomorrow. I present my talk at 2:15pm. I am really looking forward to it. After the presentations tomorrow is the poster fair. Some other BSU students present talks tomorrow and some present posters tomorrow night. It will be a long day.

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