TrentU PhD Candidate Studies the effects of temperature on Tree Swallows

Simon Tapper is a PhD candidate in Environmental and Life Sciences at Trent University.

Originally from Ottawa, he completed his BSc at the University of Toronto in biological anthropology, and his master’s in primatology at the University of Roehampton.

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Simon is currently researching tree swallows.

With rising global temperatures, animals will experience warmer annual temperatures and more heat waves.

Under such changing conditions, animals will be challenged to maintain stable body temperatures in the face of heat stress.

For animals that spend a lot of energy hunting and traveling to care for their young, exercising in the heat could hinder their ability to provide food for their young. 

Simon’s research seeks to understand if overheating is a factor that limits a tree swallow’s ability to feed its young.

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Photo by Lydia Dotto

To monitor the activity levels of tree swallows, Simon inserted transponders (PIT tags) into each individual. This process is similar to how vets put microchips into cats and dogs!

The tags were registered by antennas placed near the swallows’ nests. Each time a swallow returned to the nest to feed its young, the unique ID was recorded and a timestamp was provided.

This allowed Simon to remotely monitor the swallows’ behaviour without disturbing them. He then took the data to see how the adults change their behaviour under different ambient temperatures and at different times of day.

So far, Simon has found that swallows change their feeding behaviour based on the time of day, with more feeding during the mornings and evenings when it’s cooler outside.

Temperature is an important factor driving the timing of when tree swallows supply their young with food & drink. The relationship is a complex one, since the activity of insects (the swallows’ food source) can also vary with temperature and time of day.

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In order to cope with rising global temperatures, many animals are changing their behaviours to mitigate the effects of heat stress.

For species like tree swallows, which expend significant time and energy feeding their young, hotter summer temperatures may mean less food delivered to their young and therefore less offspring surviving to adulthood. Simon’s research will help us understand if species like swallows will become susceptible to population declines as climate change progresses.

Simon says:

Trent University has been fantastic for providing me with the support and skills required to conduct my PhD. The collaborative atmosphere of the university has given me with the opportunity to learn from experienced and helpful faculty, staff, and students in the program. I am also grateful to have two excellent supervisors (Gary Burness and Joe Nocera); the guidance they have given me has no doubt improved the quality of my research.”

Thank you for sharing your work with us, Simon – keep up the great work!

trentu

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