"I just can't get enough bird research!" said Jasmine Palmer who is quickly becoming a bird expert through her experiences at UW that include apprenticing for a quarter at Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL), UW’s marine station on San Juan Island. Jasmine, now a Biology major, a marine biology minor, and an Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) minor, came to UW as an Edmonds Community College transfer student. She knew she wanted to major in a biological science and quickly figured out that birds united all her interests. In her words:
"I knew I liked marine biology and animals, but I also loved terrestrial biology and animals from lots of places around the world. I realized that there are marine birds, terrestrial birds, and that birds are found all over the world. I had enjoyed projects in previous courses that involved birds and it all came together in my mind. From that point on, I have made an effort to get involved in more bird related projects."
After realizing that her interests could come together in the study of bird life, Jasmine decided to get involved in bird research. She emailed professors at UW studying birds. Biology, the marine biology minor, and ESRM all house bird experts and opportunities for undergraduate researchers. First, Jasmine worked with ESRM researcher Dr. Barbara Clucas on a project that investigates human and crow interactions across urbanization gradients. Jasmine described her role in this project:
"I would walk up to a bird while Dr. Clucas recorded how far away it would fly at study sites with varying levels of urbanization. Later on, I helped with an aspect of the project that involved a clear box with Cheetos inside. Crows would have to step on a platform in order to open the box and get out the Cheetos, a favorite of theirs. They never opened the box, but some crows would approach it more quickly than others. I am in the process of investigating what determined how soon crows would approach the box. I have also recently gotten involved in a crow banding project at Meadowdale Park."
Jasmine desired even more research experience and decided to do the Pelagic Ecosystem Function Apprenticeship at FHL, which provided 15 credits that counted towards her Biology major and marine biology minor:
"Once I found out that one potential project in the apprenticeship involved marine birds, I became very interested and decided to go for it," she said.
In the Pelagic Ecosystem Function Apprenticeship program, students explore the habitats and organisms of the pelagic (open water) ecosystem of the San Juan Archipelago, where FHL is located. The Archipelago is unique because waters from the Pacific Ocean and major river systems mix in a powerful tidal regime and create habitats for a diverse community of prey and predator species.
The program began in 2004 with the goal of understanding how thevarious oceanographic processes shape these habitats and biological communities. The apprentices’ work is important because it tracks long-term changes in oceanographic conditions and in populations of plankton, fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, in an area judged highly sensitive to climate change.
The apprentices live at the FHL dorms for autumn quarter and work semi-independently on collecting data for the long-term study and for their own projects that they develop with faculty mentors.
In the first two weeks of the program, the instructors Oceanographer, Dr. Jan Newton and Biologist Dr. Breck Tyler train the apprentices. Jasmine described this process:
"We were taught how to take CTD samples, which stands for conductivity-temperature-depth. This would measure the salinity, temperature, chlorophyll, and oxygen concentrations throughout the water column at different points along a transect. I was especially excited to learn how to do seabird surveys and learn how to identify many marine birds. One of the best parts of the class was that the teachers were willing to give one-on-one training and guidance. This was especially helpful when trying to make my PowerPoint presentation or write my research paper."
After the initial training, the apprenticeship requires weekly field work on the FHL research vessel the R/V Centennial and much independent work. In Jasmine’s words:
"Every week we would go out in a research vessel to collect data for our projects. We would collect CTD data, conduct plankton tows, and do seabird surveys. Everyone could get involved in all of these things since these tasks required multiple hands or eyes. Other days were spent entering and analyzing data and working on a presentation and written paper. We also got to go on some awesome field trips around the island and on the Thompson, the big UW Oceanography research vessel."
Jasmine built her project around seabirds, furthering her educational specialization as an ornithologist. She described her project:
"My specific project was called "Tidal Effects on Seabird Species Abundance in Cattle Pass in the Fall of 2010." Seabirds are an important part of the ecosystem because they depend on the fish as food, which eat the zooplankton, which eat phytoplankton. The distribution and abundances of these organisms are affected by the chemical oceanography and physical processes. It is thought that certain tidal aspects may concentrate seabird prey in Cattle Pass, a narrow part of the channel with especially strong tides. I used data from the seabird surveys to calculate seabird species density in Cattle Pass.
I also collected tide speed and direction data from a website that records the local tidal conditions. In order to look for patterns in seabird species density and tidal aspects, I created tidal phase categories similar to ones that had been used in past studies. This was the first time this type of analysis had been done at the species level using a multi-year dataset.
I found that tidal effects on abundances of birds in Cattle Pass differed by species. Some species were in the area more during certain tide directions or speeds and some seemed to be coming to Cattle Pass in large numbers as a result of something other than tides."
Overall, Jasmine’s experience as a Pelagic Ecosystem Function apprentice at FHL was integral to developing her skills a marine biologist and ornithologist. She also received a Mary Gates Research Scholarship for her apprenticeship work. This is a competitive scholarship for UW students working on guided research with faculty. Jasmine said:
"For a marine biologist, FHL is the perfect location to study. I was surrounded by people with similar interests and experts in different marine research areas. They also have coffee available all day in the cafeteria, which was much appreciated when deadlines were coming up. Apart from being a dream study location, the whole place is incredibly beautiful. There are also trails that are great for hiking and most importantly finding birds."
After her apprenticeship, Jasmine returned to UW’s Seattle campus and sought out more opportunities to work with birds. She contacted COASST about doing an internship. COASST, UW’s seabird lab housed in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, is a citizen science project that monitors seabird mortality rates along the west coast and uses its findings to create effective marine conservation solutions. COASST takes interns every quarter to help process and analyze their data. In Jasmine’s words:
"I was able to intern with COASST last quarter and I will be returning again next quarter. The COASST people are great and it is really awesome to be able to get to know other bird people."
Currently, Jasmine is finishing her degrees that have allowed her toparticipate in an eclectic mix of bird studies and have given her a solid foundation in independent research, thanks in part to her experience at FHL. In her words:
"Next quarter I will also be helping in projects involving woodpeckers and crows in two different labs. The quarter at FHL has definitely helped me continue to do research because I was able to learn some valuable skills for both marine research and avian studies. The experience was a great jumping off point and has really opened up more opportunities for me."
After Jasmine graduates, she plans to go on to graduate school to continue studying birds.