Undergraduate Researchers Present at the 2019 Murdock College Science Research Conference

This month all three of the undergraduate researchers in the Powers lab presented data at the Murdock College Science Research Conference in Vancouver, WA. This is a meeting that is focused on undergraduates, and the sole goal is to promote serious science research at small institutions like George Fox University. Further, the students receive input and encouragement from faculty who teach at institutions throughout the Northwest. I think that the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, and program direction Dr. Moses Lee, do an amazing job with this conference.

Nathaniel Shiiki and Elliot Shannon presented the results of the work they did in Arizona this past summer. Presenting at the Murdock Conference is a great tuneup for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting that wee will attend in a couple months.

Elliot Shannon presenting his poster at the Murdock conference!
Nathaniel Shiiki presenting his poster at the Murdock conference.

Also presenting was Tiffany Regier who presented data I collected in collaboration with Dr. Bret Tobalske and his Ph.D. student Tony Lapsansky last May. This was a great opportunity for Tiffany to gain presentation experience as she gears up to write her own research proposal in the Spring.

Tiffany Regier presenting her poster at the Murdock conference.

Powers Lab group photo!

George Fox University crew at the Murdock Conference banquet.

Nathaniel Shiiki presenting his poster.

Elliot Shannon presenting his poster.

Tiffany Regier presenting her poster.

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

Powers Lab Travels to SICB 2019 in Tampa, FL!

The Powers Lab made their annual trek to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting held this year in Tampa, FL. It was a light year as only three presentations were connected to the lab. Don gave an oral presentation on the use of shallow torpor by hummingbirds which was a collaborative work with Dr. Anusha Shankar (Stony Brook University) and Dr. Catherine Graham (WSL, Switzerland). Undergraduate researchers Natalie Amodei and Sarah Thompson presented posters on their projects. Natalie presented data on the effectiveness of evaporative heat dissipation during hovering at high temperature in hummingbirds, and Sarah presented on day on daytime weight management by hummingbirds. Both Natalie and Sarah did an amazing job! Former Powers lab undergraduate researcher Sean Powers, currently a Ph.D. student at Virginia Commonwealth University, also presented his work on invasive moths. Overall it was great meeting!

Pizza dinner to celebrate the end of a great SICB meeting!

The lab enjoying the last day of SICB 2019!

Former Powers Lab undergraduate researcher (and Powers progeny) presenting his work on invasive moths at SICB!

Nighttime along the River Walk in Tampa at SICB.

Natalie working her poster at SiCB!

Poster session at SICB!

Our friends at Sable Systems at SICB!

Sarah explaining her daytime body management data during the SiCB poster session.

Don giving his talk on shallow hypothermia in hummingbirds.

Plenary session at the 2019 SICB meeting!