Using thermal imaging to detect torpor in hummingbirds

Please consider supporting an initiative from a student (Erich Eberts) from Loyola Marymount University to use thermal imaging in order to monitor and detect torpor use in nesting hummingbirds.  This is a first for me, to be assisting in a crowd-sourcing approach to research, and I think it lends itself extremely well to student initiated research, but all the credit goes to the students Erich Eberts and Anusha Shankar for all their hard work at putting together this proposal.

The link to the fund raising campaign is here, on the website.  The title of the proposal:

Using Thermal Imaging to Detect Torpor in Nesting Hummingbirds

Although I might not make it into the field with Erich, I will provide analytical support and assistance with the thermal image analysis.  I have long been watching the hummingbirds that fly past my office window (see videos below) and have even seen them rearing their young outside my office window (in Canada), but Erich is interested in testing a very interesting question about whether and how much females engage in nightly torpor when they are actively incubating eggs and rearing young.  If funded, he will have his own, portable thermal cameras to use in the field and hopefully capture not only stunning science videos, but also useful data on the extent to which torpor is used during incubation.

I wish I could loan him my thermal camera, but mine is heavily used and also off being serviced and calibrated.  The bill for that is $2500, so I think the budget proposed for this project is very modest.




Help with selecting papers for a course

I am looking for suggestions for interesting research papers for a seminar course on Biology of Sensory Systems.  You may suggest your own papers, as I would like to assemble a list of possible research papers to a class of 20 senior biology students who have a background in physiology, neurobiology, or cell biology.

The course could cover cellular mechanisms or behavioural evidence for how animals sense the environment.  Possible topics would be olfaction, thermosensation, photosensitivity, mechanosensation, nociception, UV detection, magnetoreception….to name a few.  The course will not cover aspects of central processing or perception of sensory information within the CNS, as I would like the emphasis to be on the peripheral aspects of sensation.

Non-mammalian and non-human example are especially welcome, since this is for biology majors.

I have posted this question on Researchgate as well.


Off to my first paleontology meeting, in Utah!

My final conference trip of the year, this time to a paleontology meeting!  I leave on wednesday (arriving a day late, sadly).

I will be speaking about our paper published earlier this year on reproductive endothermy in tegu lizards, in a symposium organised by Colleen Farmer, Jennifer Botha-Brink, and Adam Huttenlocker, entitled “Recent Advances in Understanding the Origins and Evolution of Tetrapod Endothermy”

I’m looking forward to interacting with a group of paleontologists and hope they don’t mind hearing about some research on an extant animal!

For those interested, the title of my talk:

“Facultative thermogenesis in tegu lizards provides metabolic support for the parental care model of endothermy”



Here is the symposium information:

Recent Advances in Understanding the Origins and Evolution of Tetrapod Endothermy
Co-convenors: Colleen G. Farmer, Jennifer Botha-Brink, and Adam K. Huttenlocker

Endothermy, the ability to use metabolically generated heat to regulate internal body temperature above ambient, represents a key innovation driving mammalian and avian evolution, allowing them to shorten the time between conception and sexual maturity, and to exploit new habitats and resources not accessible to ectotherms. Because of this, understanding the evolutionary origins of endothermy has become a central question in vertebrate paleobiology and evolutionary physiology. Many physiologic adaptations that either promote or were a consequence of endothermy are shared between mammals and birds, but major questions surround their origins and early evolution: What fossilizable markers of endothermy are accessible to paleontologists? What were the selective agents that have driven this novel thermoregulatory physiology? What were the paleobiological and ecological contexts for its origins? When and how many times did endothermy evolve? In recent years, new information from non-mammalian synapsids and archosaurs has begun to reshape our views of their paleophysiology, including their capacities for fast growth, cardiopulmonary physiology, and insulation and thermoregulation. The growing body of new data makes this a timely topic that will throw into sharp relief what is and isn’t known, and will promote cross-pollination of research in light of the vertebrate fossil record.

This symposium will feature interdisciplinary research that exemplifies the diversity of new studies that shed light on the origins and early evolution of tetrapod endothermy. Symposium contributors will consist of an international list of scientists who employ a variety of tools to pinpoint the functional correlates of endothermy and their evolutionary origins in synapsids, archosaurs, and other tetrapod groups. Presentations will therefore span taxonomic boundaries, and will appeal to attendees actively researching paleophysiology in extinct tetrapods and to those interested in all aspects of vertebrate paleobiology. Major topics will include a variety of techniques and study systems, including (1) bone histological applications, (2) functional morphology, (3) metabolic scaling, (4) micro-computed tomographic techniques, and (5) clumped isotope paleothermometry. In light of the rapid changes in the field, this symposium will generate broad interest across multiple disciplines, as well as in the lay community, and will guide future research.


Evolution of the avian bill as a thermoregulatory organ

After a year in the making (4 months of that waiting for the journal review process), our review paper is finally published!  The link can be found here:

For those without access, please feel free to contact me for an e-offprint.

This review represents a collaboration with my good colleague, Dr. Matthew Symonds (Deakin University) and a Brock student, Bassel Arnaout, who contributed to the writing and research, and summarises the evidence for how temperature has shaped bird bill size.



Seminar on Hummingbird Physiology

I am pleased to be able to host Dr. Kenneth Welch today, who will be giving a seminar in the Department of Biological Sciences, Brock University on:

“Glucose, fructose and the energetics of hovering flight”

Ken is currently on sabbatical, but was gracious enough to add us to his travel schedule while back at his home institution (U of Toronto, Scarborough).

Location: MacKenzie Chown H313

Date/Time: Oct 7, 2016, 14:15

His research into hummingbird physiology sheds light on how locomotion is influenced by the environment and how one of the most intensely powered muscles receive the necessary fuels to power their activity.


Thermal image of a ruby-throated hummingbird.