Thompson Rivers University

Animal Biology Research — Q & A with Orri Greaves

February 18, 2014

Animal Biology Research — Q&A with Orri Greaves

Orri Greaves analyzes the feathers of Bullock’s orioles to learn whether diet affects plumage.

Meet Orri Greaves, a fourth year Bachelor of Science Honours student majoring in Animal Biology. The Newsroom asked Orri about the ins and outs of conducting her own research project through TRU’s Undergraduate Research Experience Award Program (UREAP).

TRU: Your project is titled, “Do Moult Conditions Influence Plumage Colouration or Breeding Dynamics in Bullock’s Orioles (Icterus bullockii)?” Boil it down for us.

OG: Bullock’s orioles have a unique moult where they leave the breeding grounds and stop over in the southern United States during monsoon season to regrow their feathers before heading to Mexico for the winter. Their diets during this stopover can be observed using isotope analysis to determine the levels of carbon and nitrogen in their feathers.

During the summer we caught and banded Bullock’s orioles, collected feather samples, and observed their breeding success. We used mass spectrometry to analyze the colour of the feathers with regards to brightness, saturation, and hue. Using isotope data and the colour variables I will determine if the levels of carbon and nitrogen in the feathers predict variation in the colour of the tail and breast feathers. I will also explore whether sex or age affects carbon and nitrogen isotopes. Finally, I will determine if moult conditions influence breeding dynamics.

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TRU: What attracted you to doing this research?

OG: In my third year I took Animal Behaviour with Dr. Matt Reudink. It was the most interesting class I had ever taken. I want to be a veterinarian so deciphering the behaviours of animals was something I was drawn to. Matt approached me about a possible honours project, which I had been considering ever since I learned about the amazing research program at TRU. He had graduate students working with bluebirds and orioles, and I chose to work with orioles. During the summer I did field work on the use of social information in these birds using my NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA). Now I am focusing on the lab and statistical aspects of research.

“Doing research allowed me to become more flexible and better at problem solving because more often than not, something will go wrong and you must be able to brush it off and try again.” —Orri Greaves

TRU: How has your UREAP grant helped you get into doing research?

OG: As a full time student living off student loans, my UREAP grant relieved some of the financial stress of going to university. It allowed me to focus on my research as opposed to having to find a job during school. My project required sending feather samples to the Smithsonian so the extra money to cover supplies was very helpful.

TRU: Will your project lead to a presentation or publishing opportunity?

OG: I will be presenting a poster and giving a talk at the TRU Undergraduate Student Research and Innovation Conference in 2014 and my supervisor Dr. Matt Reudink and I will work towards publishing my research in a scholarly journal.

TRU: What have you learned from this experience?

OG: I studied birds so I learned to always look up. There are so many amazing things in nature that we pass by every day without a second thought. I also learned to look down because I narrowly missed stepping on a rattlesnake in the field this summer. Doing research allowed me to become more flexible and better at problem solving because more often than not, something will go wrong and you must be able to brush it off and try again.

TRU: Who in your field do you admire and why?

OG: I admire anyone who gets to study sloths. They are my favourite animal and I would love to learn more about them.

TRU: What impact do you hope your research will have?

OG: Because Bullock’s orioles are not widely researched I hope to shed some light on their intriguing moult behaviour. Any research involving migratory birds is important because it may become useful in future conservation efforts.

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