Recent research demonstrates that in wood ducks (Aix sponsa) less than 1¢ªC variation in average incubation temperatures affects duckling growth, body condition, thermoregulatory ability, immune function, stress endocrinology, and locomotor performance. Many of these effects persist until at least several weeks after hatching. The proposed research will continue to explore the role incubation temperature plays in defining characteristics of hatchling wood ducks that are important to their development. Specifically, this research will investigate whether incubation temperature drives trade-offs between physiological processes critical to early survival in birds, their thermoregulatory ability and the immune system. The proposed research will also explore a potential underlying mechanism responsible for meditating effects of incubation temperature on avian phenotype.

This research will integrate research with education primarily by targeting K-12 teachers and students and undergraduates in wildlife sciences and biology. The K-12 education approach aims both to raise awareness of waterfowl natural history and conservation as well as the scientific process. In teaming with the Virginia Tech Science and Outreach Program, 12 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 4 high schools, and 4 special education programs will have access to color-printed cards highlighting the natural history and conservation status of Virginia waterfowl. The schools will also have access to lesson plans pertaining to avian incubation and reproductive ecology that incorporate Virginia standards of learning. Education of undergraduates involves a new program that facilitates reciprocal learning by pairing a graduate student with an undergraduate researcher conducting a senior thesis project. The goal of the program is to prepare undergraduates for their upcoming transition to graduate school by giving them hands-on training with all major aspects of academic research, while simultaneously preparing graduate students for their eventual transition into a faculty position.

Project Report

Is it nature or nurture? It is widely known that parents contribute genes to their babies that affect their appearance, behavior, and health, but individuals are not solely the product of their genes. The environment also plays a key role in shaping offspring characteristics. In many animals, parents have enormous influence on the developmental environment of their young, which often has life-long repercussions for their progeny. In birds a key component of the developmental environment is temperature which is largely regulated by the incubating parents. However, little is known about how small differences in temperature, which could be produced by parents spending more or less time off of a nest, affect traits of avian offspring. Our research funded by the NSF quantified an array of traits in young birds in response to subtle differences in incubation temperature. Specifically, we incubated Wood Duck eggs at three temperatures that fall within the range of naturally-incubated Wood Duck nest temperatures, then assessed the quality of the young ducklings. We showed that less than 1?C variation in average incubation temperatures affects duckling growth, body condition, thermoregulatory ability, immune function, stress endocrinology, and locomotor performance. Many of these effects persist until at least several weeks after hatching. We also determined how incubation temperature drives trade-offs between physiological processes critical to early survival in birds, specifically their thermoregulatory ability and the immune system. Finally, we demonstrated that changes in thyroid hormones may be the potential underlying mechanism responsible for meditating effects of incubation temperature on avian phenotype. Our studies demonstrated that for birds nurture is an important component of a duckling’s ability to develop, grow, and survive. Because warmer incubation temperatures produced hardier ducklings, our results underscore the importance of maintaining high quality nesting habitat for birds to help minimize time parents must spend off the nest. To broaden the scope of the project, we also integrate research with education primarily by targeting K-12 teachers and students and undergraduates in wildlife sciences and biology. The K-12 education approach aims both to raise awareness of waterfowl natural history and conservation as well as the scientific process. In teaming with the Virginia Tech Science and Outreach Program, 12 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 4 high schools, and 4 special education programs have access to color-printed cards highlighting the natural history and conservation status of Virginia waterfowl. The schools also have access to lesson plans pertaining to avian incubation and reproductive ecology that incorporate Virginia standards of learning. Education of undergraduates involves a new program that facilitates reciprocal learning by pairing a graduate student (the mentor) with an undergraduate researcher conducting a senior thesis project in the Hopkins’ laboratory. The goal of the program is to prepare undergraduates for their upcoming transition to graduate school by giving them hands-on training with all major aspects of academic research, while simultaneously preparing graduate students for their eventual transition into a faculty position.

Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Institute
Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)
Type
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
1110386
Program Officer
Samuel M. Scheiner
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2011-06-01
Budget End
2013-05-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2011
Total Cost
$10,704
Indirect Cost
City
Blacksburg
State
VA
Country
United States
Zip Code
24061