BSP Travel Award recipient Rebecca Jones

A field report from Finland, funded by a BSP International Training and Fieldwork Award

Fieldwork in Finland

When my supervisor suggested going to Finland during the summer of my first year of my PhD, I jumped at the chance. That was until I researched what the weather would be like during my stay (from November to March). I knew it would be cold (which I’m not particularly partial to anyway!) but temperatures could drop to below -30°C with about 3 hours of daylight at times. So with suggestions of purchasing a SAD light box whilst out there, I made my way to the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland to carry out some work with Professor Johanna Mappes.

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My trip to Finland was split into two separate topics, one continuing on from my undergraduate project looking at toxicity cheats in a prey population and predator responses to them. The second and larger aspect of the project concerned my PhD work, looking at the nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. As I was using avian predators, in the form of Great Tits (Parus major), I was based at the University of Jyvaskyla’s field research station a further 60km North of Jyvaskyla, called Konnevesi Research Station (see map).

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Location of the Konnevesi Research Station with respect to the main campus at Jyvaskyla. (Google maps).View of the lake from the animal house where the birds were housed.

As you can see from the map the area of Finland I was working in (as well as quite a lot of Finland actually) had many lakes which made for a very picturesque field centre. When I first arrived for my first lot of field work in November everything was under snow already and the temperatures would dip down to -10°C. However, Finnish accommodation always contains a double layer of double glazing which meant that if you could stay indoors it was very warm! During my first stay I learnt how to trap the birds for use in my experiments using a specially constructed trap which ensured the trapper could remain inside whilst trapping birds, only having to leave the warmth to collect trapped birds (see photo).

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 The trapping cage used to trap Great Tits and Blue Tits (for other experiments). The birds’ favourite food, peanuts, was placed in the trap and birds readily flew in to get them. The string (on the left hand side) was then attached to a door which could be closed from inside the office.

My first experiment whilst in Konnevesi, a follow-up from my undergraduate project (Jones et al., 2013), examined the response of Great Tits to prey populations that were aggregated or spatial with different frequency of toxic cheats in the population. This involved some DIY to create spatial prey populations and also included feeding bitrex to some birds. Although most were happy with the experiments some did get a bit grumpy!

My second experiment was carried out after a (relatively) warm break over Christmas in the UK. This work examined my study species, the obligate insect parasite Heterorhabdtis bacteriophora and its symbiotic bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens. Upon infection, the insect larva host undergoes a colour change to red and also produces a foul-smelling odour. This colour change is thought to act as a predator deterrent to enhance survival of the nematode, although scent has not yet been examined. My aim in Finland was to use a GM strain of this nematode which did not produce a red colouration so the effect of the scent alone could be examined. The GM strain however still had some pigmentation so the TT01 strain (a non-GM strain from naturally occurring populations) was utilised. Experiments were carried out examining the effect of scent, colour, and colour and scent by observing the Great Tits responses ie. how many infected or uninfected waxworms they would consume (see photos). The experiments went very well and we found that Great Tits were able to detect the scent of infected prey items and respond to it.

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Heating the sauna;  Relaxing in the fire hut with a Masters student; Sini and preparing salmon on the stove.

It was not all work and no play in Finland and in my spare time I was able to enjoy walks in the forest, saunas, ice-hole swimming (which was extremely cold), bird-ringing and cooking food in the fire hut!

I had an amazing time in Finland, making many new friends and contacts and would especially like to thank Prof. Johanna Mappes for advice and supervising me whilst in Finland and Helina Nisu who took excellent care of the birds during my experiment. I’d also like to thank the BSP for the International Training and Fieldwork award which helped make my trip to Finland possible.

Rebecca Jones, Postgraduate student, Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour, Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool. @RSJonesScience

Jones, R. S., Davies, S. C. & Speed, M. P. (2013). Defence cheats can degrade protection of chemically defended prey. Ethology 119, 52-57.

Several BSP student members have recently benefitted from the BSP International Training and Fieldwork awards. For further details please see this link.