ECR Spotlight is a series of interviews with early-career authors from a selection of papers published in Journal of Experimental Biology and aims to promote not only the diversity of early-career researchers (ECRs) working in experimental biology during our centenary year but also the huge variety of animals and physiological systems that are essential for the ‘comparative’ approach. Ruth Dunn and James Duckworth are authors on ‘ A framework to unlock marine bird energetics’, published in JEB. Ruth is a Senior Research Associate in the lab of Nick Graham at Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK, investigating the ecology and energetics of marine predators and their influence on the ecosystems that they inhabit. James is an Associate Researcher in the lab of Jonathan Green at the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK, investigating applications of energetic and ecological theory to address practical problems.

Ruth Dunn and James Duckworth

Describe your scientific journey and your current research focus

Ruth: I studied ecology at the University of Hull (when they had a campus in Scarborough), UK, because it seemed like a great excuse to spend a few years making new friends, running around rocky shores, and learning to SCUBA dive. I loved learning about the natural world, undertaking fieldwork trips, making maps and thinking about how to investigate and answer scientific questions. I sought to continue to do this by studying Masters and PhD degrees at Imperial College London, UK, and the University of Liverpool, UK, respectively. Throughout this period, I spent an increasing amount of time on seabird islands, researching the movement and energetics of some amazing species like common guillemots – the deepest diving bird that can fly. I think that seabirds are incredible and I have recently also enjoyed investigating the influence that they have on marine systems via mechanisms such as predation and nutrient transfer.

James: I initially joined the world of biology through a love of statistics and coding. Something about trying to describe and explain the chaotic and seemingly random natural world appealed to me quite early on in life. Through my career so far, I have moved between a wide range of subject areas in an attempt to build a diverse analytical skillset. This has led to me working on projects in areas like freshwater pollution, seabird energetics, fishing fleet viability and now even passenger use of trains! While I'm currently working as a senior analyst at the Office of Rail and Road, I'm still also working on research started during my PhD. This work focuses on how offshore wind power developments impact the behaviour and energetic budgets of red throated divers in Europe.

How would you explain the main finding of your paper to a member of the public?

Our paper provides a framework that others can use to help them estimate the amount of energy that any population of marine bird, including seabirds, ducks, divers and grebes, uses in its daily life.

What are the potential implications of this finding for your field of research?

Marine birds are important predators that have a huge impact on the marine world, consuming large numbers of fish to fulfil their energetic requirements. Understanding energy use helps us work out how this intake of food changes in space and time. By using our framework, we hope that more people will be able to investigate the energetics of marine birds and incorporate energetic approaches into their research.

Seabird islands are full of life, energetic flows and data analysis opportunities. This one is the Isle of May, Scotland.

Seabird islands are full of life, energetic flows and data analysis opportunities. This one is the Isle of May, Scotland.

Which part of this research project was the most rewarding/challenging?

Ruth: James and I both completed our PhDs under the supervision of Jonathan Green at the University of Liverpool, and we were therefore both subject to several years of Jon enthusing about the study of marine bird energetics. Although our PhDs were on different species (I researched auks whilst James focused on red throated divers), we used some similar methods to investigate the diving behaviour and energetic expenditure of our respective study species. This meant that we both spent a lot of time reading through historic literature regarding the ecology and physiology of auks and divers. Ultimately, James had the idea we should harness our experience, work together, and expand our scope to all species of marine bird. The most rewarding aspect of working on this paper was therefore doing so together, combining the experience that we've both gained over the course of our PhDs, as well as the knowledge of what we both enjoy doing – James is amazing at coming up with cool ideas and new things to do with data, whilst I enjoy creating figures and narratives. These different skillsets, combined with Jon's wide-reaching expertise in the area, helped us to write a paper that we hope will go on to help other researchers who are interested in dipping a toe into the water of marine bird energetics.

Are there any important historical papers from your field that have been published in JEB?

‘Thermodynamic modelling predicts energetic bottleneck for seabirds wintering in the northwest Atlantic’ by Fort, Porter and Grémillet (2009; doi:10.1242/jeb.032300). This paper isn't particularly old, but it is a fantastic piece of work that sets the scene for the bioenergetic modelling of marine birds over long periods of time. The framework that we present in our paper is essentially a simplified version of the complex methodologies used by Fort et al.; our framework also encourages the incorporation of key metrics (body size, temperature and behaviour) to estimate marine bird energy expenditure.

What's next for you?

Ruth: I am enjoying conducting postdoctoral research into the movement of tropical seabirds as well as the influence that their nutrients (transferred via guano) have on coral reefs. I am aiming to seek further funding and opportunities to keep exploring these themes.

James: It feels like an exciting time to be an analyst/scientist, as data science continues to become increasingly important in almost every field. For me, I'm looking forward to further developing my skillset and seeing what area I find myself in next!

Ruth Dunn's contact details: Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 4YQ, UK.

James Duckworth's contact details: School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, Merseyside, L69 3BX, UK.

E-mail: [email protected]; [email protected]

R. E.
J. A.
A framework to unlock marine bird energetics
J. Exp. Biol.