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Off to the University of Montana!!

Traveled to the University of Montana for my annual work with Bret Tobalske. This had an added bonus in that Bret took on Rosalee Elting, one of my former undergraduate researchers as a Ph.D. student!

Our work this year would be several experiments associated with Rosalee’s Ph.D. work including some novel competition studies of male calliope hummingbirds in a flight arena. To be honest I thought it would be a challenge to get these competition trials to work, but in the end the success of this study was the highlight of my trip.

My concern for the competition experiment resulted from work I did for my Ph.D. where I tried to conduct competiton trials in an outdoors tent in the Chiricahua Mts. Those experiments were not horribly successful and I was never able to get them published (tried hard). Even so, The experiments in Montana were a huge success with calliope males battling each other to various degrees in all the trials. Was really fun to watch and look forward to Rosalee’s analysis of the data!

This was a very productive trip. Not only did we get some great competition videos, but also got flight and load-lifting energetics data for all the birds in the study. We also set in motion experiments to get supportive data on free-living calliopes. Can’t wait to see what we learn from all these experiments.

Show Moves to the Chiricahuas!

Lab fieldwork has shifted from the Flight Lab at the University of Montana to the Chiricahua Mountains, a “sky island” in southeastern Arizona. Here we will work at the Southwestern Research Station (SWRS), where the Lab has conducted hummingbird research for 35 years.

Southwestern Research Station

Our focus this year will be on how hummingbirds might use behavioral thermoregulation as a means of dissipating body heat accumulated during hovering bouts when environmental temperatures are warm. Motivation for this work came when our measurements of passive and evaporative heat dissipation during hovering appeared insufficient to deal with the extra heat projection that occurs due to the mechanical inefficiency of hummingbird flight muscles.

During this trip we will conduct two studies, one in the laboratory and one in the field. In the laboratory undergraduate researcher Elliot Shannon will offer hummingbirds a choice between a perch at ambient temperature and one that is artificially cooled to several degrees below ambient temperature. The experiment will be run across a range of environmental temperatures. The initial hypothesis is that when temperatures are warm (mid to upper 30’s °C) that the hummingbirds will choose the cooled perch to dissipate heat following hovering bouts. Normally ambient temperatures during the day are sufficiently warm that we can use naturally occurring temperatures cycles for such experiments. However, this year temperatures were unusually mild so we ended up using heat lamps to increase ambient temperature (yes, everyone laughed at us). Experimental trials were using the three common hummingbird species at SWRS: blue-throated mountain-gem (AOS just changed the common name from blue-throated hummingbird), Rivoli’s hummingbird, and black-chinned hummingbird.

Flight arena used in perch-choice experiments. Actually experimental trial involving a male blue-throated mountain-gem.

The field experiment, conducted by undergraduate researcher Nathaniel Shiiki, tracked hummingbird use of perching locations around the station’s feeder patch throughout the day. Included in the protocol was placement of iButtons at typical hummingbird perches to measure perch-microclimate temperature cycles as well as trail cameras on feeders to monitor feeding frequency and duration across a range of daytime temperatures. The primary purpose of this work was to see if hummingbird perch selection throughout the day was consistent with the intentional selection of cool microclimates to dissipate heat accumulated during hovering bouts.

PlotWatcher 6 trail camera and iButton (inside the cup) setup on one of the feeders.

2019 Field Season Begins in Montana!

As usual the lab’s field season starts with a trip the Flight Lab at the University of Montana to work with long time collaborator Dr. Bret Tobalske. The main goal of this trip was to continue our work on heat dissipation during hovering in calliope hummingbirds (Selasphorus calliope), and to begin looking to extend our work on heat dissipation during flight to other bird species.

University of Montana Flight Lab

We began our work by measuring total evaporative water loss during hovering in calliopes. We actually started this work two years ago, but needed to increase our sample size. There is no simple way to make this measurement beyond getting birds to hover continuously in a metabolism chamber.

Metabolism chamber used in our study.

Once the bird is hovering evaporative water loss is measured using open-flow respirometry. As you might imagine this also requires a high flow rate. In our case 8 L/min!

The Sable Systems Field Metabolic System used in this study and our trusty iMac Pro running Warthog Software.

Once these measurements were made we switched gears and began experiments designed to help us understand how hummingbirds might behaviorally thermoregulate to dissipate heat accumulated during hovering at high temperature. We were in luck because we were able to get some time in a temperature controlled room for a few days to do our work (thank you Dr. Zac Cheviron). Bret’s graduate student Tony Lapsansky collaborated with us on this project. Our experiment involved a large acrylic flight chamber, and we used two FLIR Infrared video cameras to track perching and hovering surface temperatures over a range of environmental temperatures. We also recorded each trial using GoPro Hero 6 cameras that will be used to assess kinematic changes in hovering flight that might occur across temperatures.

Short video of one of our temperature trials.

Overall the trip was quite productive and we were really pleased with the quality of our data. Next, in about a week, we will be off to Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona and the Southwestern Research Station!

New Group of Undergraduate Researchers Join the Powers Lab

The Powers Lab is pleased to welcome three new undergraduate researchers to the fold this Spring!

Elliot Shannon is a sophomore biology major from Ridgefield, WA. His core project for the next year will be a study of whether or not hummingbirds selectively choose cool microclimates to dissipate heat after hovering in high environmental temperatures. The work will be conducted in the Chiricahua Mountains of SE Arizona. Elliot will be funded by the Richter Scholar Program at George Fox University. Welcome Elliot!!

Elliot Shannon

Nathaniel Shiiki is a junior biology major from West Linn, OR. Nathaniel’s core project will be a study of daytime temperature variation in natural perching microclimates used by hummingbirds throughout the day. This work will also be conducted in the Chiricahua Mountains of SE Arizona. Nathaniel will be funded by the Richter Scholar Program at George Fox University. Welcome Nathaniel!

Nathaniel Shiiki

Tiffany Regier is a freshman biology major who will be working on a variety of small projects including Arctic Tern energetics (collaboration with Dr. Hugh Ellis, University of San Diego) and validation of some changes to our open-flow respirometry protocol. Welcome Tiffany!!

Tiffany Regier

New Study on Range-Edge Lizard Energetics Published in Collaboration with the Powers Lab

Today a study was published in the journal Copeia detailing how lizards at the cool northern edge of their range energetically manage in an excessively cool climate. The results of this study could provide useful information regarding lizard range shifts resulting from climate change. Lead author of the study was Sean Powers (yes, a Powers lab progeny) who is currently a Ph.D, student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Click here to download the paper.