The World Seabird Conference might be one of my favourite meetings. I get to meet with many of my all time favourite collaborators. Some who live in Canada, but funnily enough we sometimes hang out more at international conferences than we do on home turf. Also, because it is all about seabirds, there is hardly a moment to sit down as there is always likely 2 to 3 talks that I want to see all at the same time. The WSC was first held in Victoria, Canada in 2010, and now for the second time in Cape Town, South Africa in 2015.
During this year’s WSC I was involved in three sessions. First, I was a co-convenor of the Impacts of Marine Debris symposium. We had a very short window and lots of researchers who wanted to present so we opted for a series of short talks, followed by some 3 minute poster presentations. This kept things moving at a rapid speed as we tried to keep on time, and allow everyone to share their research on marine plastics and seabirds. I presented a poster on the work that we have done reviewing how much we do know about seabird and plastic interactions in on all three of Canada’s coastlines. The poster is based on this paper.
Second, I was lucky enough to contribute some of the work I have done for my PhD research to the symposium on Seabirds as Indicators of Ocean Health. My talk focused on an examination of mercury and parasites in a large sample of eider ducks that I worked with hunters in Cape Dorset to collect. I am hoping to submit this paper/chapter for review soon. It uses path analysis to examine the direst and indirect pathways of both mercury and parasites in eider ducks. Interestingly, we found that both mercury and parasites have several shared pathways and patterns in eider ducks, complicating how the effects of these burdens can be assessed in wildlife.
Lastly, because my PhD crosses a few disciplines I also presented some of the thesis in the Host-Parasite Interactions session. For this section I presented on the experiment I have carried out on East Bay Island during 2013 and 2014. The general idea is that I manipulated female parasite load by giving half of the banded females a commonly used de-worming medication (often used by vets to de-worm dogs and cats). The question we were interested in was whether gastro-intestinal parasites affect marine bird reproduction in the wild. By removing the parasites from some females we tested whether these anti-parasite treated birds were able to lay their eggs sooner, or lay more eggs as compared with females that were given a water placebo treatment. It is a very cool experiment, and East Bay Island is one of the few places in the world where such an experiment can be carried out. What we found is that for birds that arrive early, and often in good condition, the treatment of parasites did not make a difference to their reproduction. When we examined just the late arriving birds, those often in poorer condition, the removal of parasites did make a difference. In the late birds those given the ant-parasite treatment were more likely to stay and breed then their placebo treated counterparts. And when those late arriving anti-parasite treated birds did stay, they often only laid one egg. It was like there were just able to get up enough energy to squeeze just one out.
Lots of work to be done still on these last two papers, but it is great to talk to others interested in the topic and get ideas and new perspectives on the work.