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By Laura Dillman Ripley
Most of us have at least some lazy, hazy, days of sum-
mer in our schedules by the time August rolls around
each year. But for master's biology student Jenna
Quinn ('11), it's go time. Quinn is completing a study
on semipalmated sandpipers, monitoring their diets
and behaviours around the Bay of Fundy in hopes of
improving conservation efforts.
"Semipalmated sandpipers spend their summers in
the Arctic and winter in South America. They stop
around the Bay of Fundy to `fuel up' on the mud-
flats. They are only in the area for about a month, so
our field season is short. We looked specifically at
their behaviours day and night and what their diet
consists of," she says.
Working with biology professor Dr. Diana Hamilton
and a group of undergraduate students, Quinn col-
lected data from three areas -- Johnson's Mills, NB;
Mary's Point, NB; and Avonport, NS. They took video
of the birds to monitor their behaviour, whether they
feed the same way, and looked at how many were
feeding in specific areas.
Quinn's project also looked at the birds' diets.
Scientists know that the sandpipers eat mudshrimp,
an invertebrate found in the mudflats along the Bay of
Fundy. By collecting blood samples and analyzing the
results, Quinn is working to find out what else sand-
pipers eat -- other invertebrates and biofilm (plant
matter found in the mud), and whether these are
valuable to the birds.
She says, "We want to find out if sandpipers get
enough nutrients and energy from these sources or
if these alternatives in their diets are a cause for
concern. We hope to narrow down what and where
the most important food sources for sandpipers are,
to assist conservation efforts along the Bay of Fundy
as a whole."
Quinn has been working steadily in the lab and will be
defending her thesis this summer. Throughout the fall
she has analyzed all the video collected, evaluated the
sandpiper blood samples, and is processing mud sam-
ples to see what known and unknown food sources
are available along the Bay of Fundy. She sorts, weighs,
and identifies all the invertebrates in each sample.
With about 300 samples, each taking between one and
five hours to access, it is no small task.
Dr. Hamilton says, "With only a small window to
collect her data on the sandpipers, Jenna's project
is a challenging one. Her research will help con-
tribute to the understanding of environmental
changes in the Bay of Fundy region and how birds
respond to these."
How did Quinn, a Guelph, ON resident, end up on
the East Coast? "I did my BSc in zoology focusing on
fresh-water invertebrates. I wanted to try something
new, but in a similar field for my master's. Marine
work and Mount Allison fit the bill. I've been able to
continue my research on invertebrates and have
learned a lot about semipalmated sandpipers. It has
been a wonderful experience."
Master's student studying bird behaviours
Jenna Quinn ('11)
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