Sea Duck Joint Venture

A Conservation Partnership under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan

Sea Duck Joint Venture

Recipients of SDJV Student Fellowship Awards

The Sea Duck Joint Venture is honored to announce the 2022 Recipients of the SDJV Student Fellowship Awards:

Reyd Smith holding a King Eider in arctic Canada.

Reyd Smith, Ph.D. Candidate, Carlton University

Project Title:  Polycyclic Aromatic Compound (PAC) contamination and health implications in common eider ducks at a diesel spill site and a reference site in Nunatsiavut, Canada

Although large oil spills often catch the media and public’s attention, smaller-scale spills and chronic leaks can also impact local wildlife, often through sub-lethal exposure during foraging bouts. Importantly, exposure to oil contaminants may alter gene expression, with the potential for downstream effects on reproductive success. In collaboration with the Nunatsiavut Government, Reyd will examine exposure patterns and toxicogenomic effects of polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs), primarily in female common eiders at a spill and reference site in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Reyd’s research goals are focused around two important conservation priorities:

  1. Determining the sub-lethal effects of oil exposure in birds, given the large quantities of oil released into the environment globally
  2. Meaningful involvement of Indigenous communities in research to achieve shared conservation objectives

In her research, Reyd will measure PAC levels, stable isotopes, and gene expression, to determine the potential sources of PACs and the resulting implications on individual health mediated by gene expression. Concurrently, she will conduct interviews with local Inuit knowledge holders to improve her understanding of local bird biology through Indigenous knowledge systems.

Reyd Smith is a Métis PhD student at Carleton University, co-supervised by Dr. Joseph Bennett and Dr. Jennifer Provencher. She is passionate about Northern research, anthropogenic impacts on conservation, and meaningful Indigenous involvement in scientific research. She completed her BSc (Honours) at the University of Manitoba, and her MSc at the University of Windsor.

Annie Maliguine in Izembek Lagoon, Cold Bay, AlaskaPhoto Credit: Eliana Ardila

Annie Maliguine, ­M.S. Candidate, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Project Title: Steller’s eider (Polysticta stelleri) foraging habitat in Izembek Lagoon, AK

Izembek Lagoon, near Cold Bay, Alaska, was once thriving with large numbers of Steller’s eiders (Polysticta stelleri; between 40,000 and 60,000 in the early 1980s) and the lagoon has been thought to be very productive habitat. However, recent aerial surveys (2015-2018) of eiders using Izembek Lagoon in the fall have counted only 4,000 to 7,000 eiders and the cause of this dramatic decline is unknown.  Historically, the bulk of Steller’s eider diet in Izembek Lagoon has consisted of benthic marine invertebrates including crustaceans, bivalves, gastropods, and polychaetes.  In recent years, higher sea temperatures have been observed in Izembek Lagoon and warming ocean temperatures have been associated with shifts in benthic community structure elsewhere.  Annie’s research compares benthic habitat data from samples collected in 1998 to samples collected in 2018 and 2019 to understand whether the benthic food supply for eiders has changed, potentially as a result to warming sea temperatures.  She is also incorporating forage habitat suitability modeling into my research to help determine other habitat-related factors associated with the decline of eiders using this important lagoon.

Annie Maliguine is a Master’s student in the Marine Biology program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  She received her bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Conservation Biology from the University of California Davis in 2018, where she first worked with wood ducks and became interested in pursuing work in the waterfowl field.  She first learned about arctic sea ducks in waterfowl biology class and was inspired to work with them specifically.  In 2019, she worked on a project studying the nesting ecology of Common Eiders along the coast of Arctic Refuge in 2019.  Since then, Annie has worked on various waterfowl projects throughout Alaska and aspires to be a sea duck/waterfowl biologist after her graduate education.

Tori Mezebish with a Common Goldeneye.

Tori Mezebish, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Rhode Island

Project Title:  Environmental and anthropogenic variables affecting Common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) wintering in southern New England

Shellfish aquaculture is a growing industry in coastal waters across the world. However, the impacts of aquaculture on wintering sea ducks are poorly understood, vary among species, and differ by cultivated species and technique.  Past studies have demonstrated varied relationships between sea ducks and aquaculture associations, with aquaculture gear providing shellfish that sea ducks prey on or floating gear that birds may roost on. Other studies have documented aquaculture operations displacing ducks from habitat that may otherwise be used.  For her Ph.D. research, Tori Mezebish is deploying implanted GPS transmitters to investigate fine-scale movements near active aquaculture operations and habitat selection by Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers.  The results of this research will hopefully be used to inform the future siting of aquaculture leases across Rhode Island’s coastal waters. More broadly, this study will provide important annual-cycle movement information for sea duck species that are relatively understudied and yet are potentially influenced by aquaculture development.  This project comprises a portion of Tori’s PhD research at the University of Rhode Island in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

Tori began studying waterfowl as an undergraduate intern with Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s Sea Duck Colony in Laurel, Maryland.  There, she assisted researchers investigating the hearing capabilities, impacts of various transmitter attachment techniques, and growth development of many species of captive sea and diving ducks.  She went on to complete her M.S. at the University of Georgia studying the seasonal and annual movement ecology of Ring-necked Ducks wintering in the southern Atlantic Flyway.  After completing her PhD, Tori hopes to pursue a career in waterfowl research focused on questions concerning human-waterfowl conflicts to inform effective conservation and management action.