Dinner Speakers

Dr. Chris Elphick
Associate Professor,
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut 

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Life on the edge: the ecology of saltmarsh nesting birds

Salt marshes, with the daily rise and fall of the tides, are hard places to live, and few bird species regularly nest in the habitat. Eastern North America, however, has more specialized saltmarsh breeding birds than anywhere else in the world. In recent years, much research has focused on better understanding the biology of these species and, especially, the threats they face in light of rising sea-levels. Species vary in their vulnerability, with some facing a high extinction risk by mid-century, while others are more secure. In this talk, I will provide an overview of the biology of saltmarsh-nesting birds and summarize what is known about their current conservation status. I will describe the breeding systems of different species, population trends, the effects of sea-level rise and hurricanes, and new nanotag data on migration patterns. I will also present the results of recent studies that project how populations will be affected by future climate change and the conservation work that is being done to reduce the risk of extinction.

Chris Elphick is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. He grew up in England and has been interested in birds his entire life. His research focuses on the conservation ecology of birds, especially in wetlands, farmland, and forests.  He has a PhD from the University of Nevada, Reno, where he studied the ecology and conservation of birds in rice fields. He has been studying coastal marsh birds and their habitats since 2002 and is a lead investigator for the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program (SHARP), a collaborative initiative to understand the ecology and conservation of tidal-marsh birds along the Atlantic seaboard. His research has been published in journals such as the Auk, Biological Conservation, Condor, Conservation Biology, Journal of Applied Ecology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA, and Science.  Book length projects include the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Nevada, and the Ecology and Conservation of Birds in Rice Fields: A Global Review. 

Dr. Margaret Rubega
Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut & 
Connecticut State Ornithologist

The Disappearance of an Almost-Invisible  Bird: The Mysterious Biology and Decline of the Chimney Swift

Chimney Swifts are an iconic part of the sounds and sights of summer in the Northeast.  They breed, literally, right in our houses, but their unique, almost-completely aerial biology makes them particularly difficult to observe, and the steady decline of their populations across their breeding range is cause for concern.  In this talk I will provide an overview of the biology of these fascinating birds, evidence from research suggesting that the obvious ideas about why the population is declining are not accurate, and describe recent stable isotope work to examine the possibility that wintering ground conditions may be the source of their decline.

Marget  has spent her career studying a diverse array of birds, using tools from Photo on 10-28-19 at 3.09 PMbiomechanics to field surveys, with a consistent interest in answering the questions: How Does That Work? and How Does it Matter? She started her career getting crapped on in a tern colony, then studied a bird that’s famous for going in circles, and those formative experiences probably explain a lot about her subsequent career. She’s always been especially interested in feeding in birds — the way they’re built, the mechanics, the food — because a bird that isn’t fed is a bird that’s dead. Her research has been published in journals including Auk, Condor, Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, American Naturalist, and Nature. She is also active in efforts to improve communication of science to the public, and recently appeared on the StoryCollider podcast (https://soundcloud.com/the-story-collider/margaret-rubega-tell-them-who-you-are). You can find her on Twitter @profrubega chatting about birds with students and others in her #birdclass.