Research interests

While studying at Exeter University, I spent 2 years researching sensory ecology. My undergraduate dissertation was titled “Camouflage by edge enhancement in moth colouration patterns.” Here I investigated the effectiveness of different degrees of edge enhancement camouflage and associated survival rates from avian predation. I found that high contrasting edge enhancement was the most successful at avoiding detection. High contrast edge enhancement produced shading cues, enabling the moth to match the texture of the tree bark it was placed upon. This made me interested in avian vision and determining shape from shading cues. For my Master’s project, titled “Does shading on Great Argus Argusianus argus feathers create a three-dimensional illusion?”, I conducted a behaviour study on domestic chickens investigating whether birds can perceive 3D shape based on shading cues, and the implications this has for the sexual signal of the Great Argus Pheasant. The methodology for this study used a two-choice maze to test if chickens could be trained to distinguish convex and concave spheres based on shading cues. The results of this were used to determine whether the ocelli on the feathers of Great Argus pheasants, which are shaded to appear as 3D spheres, are perceived as 3D shapes by birds as they are by humans.
After completing my master’s degree, I developed a particular interest in Avian Ecology, and I am currently doing research into juvenile raptor ecology in Lithuania as part of a PhD. At present I am researching factors affecting mortality of White-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, using ringing data collected over the last 20 years. I am mostly interested in differences in mortality factors between age groups.
In the future I am hoping to investigate seasonal movement behaviour, including natal dispersion and migration, space and habitat use, and their changes during maturation in resident and migratory raptors.

Annotation of the dissertation

In ecosystems birds of prey are at the top levels of the food webs, therefore are sensitive to anthropogenic induced environmental changes. Birds of prey because of their long-life span and faithfulness to the nesting sites are suitable as model organisms to study responses to environmental changes, population dynamics and different ecological mechanisms. Despite long lasting research of birds of prey ecology, there still is insufficient knowledge on ecology, behaviour and their changes during maturation of young individuals before adulthood. Large birds of prey usually don’t start breeding before they achieve reproductive maturity after four to five year of age. Immature birds of prey often die because of natural and anthropogenic reasons as they are not experienced to find the food, to avoid dangerous anthropogenic activity or elements. Individuals are also inexperienced in dispersal, migration and wintering behaviour, finding suitable stopovers to rest and feed, crossing geographical barriers. Therefore, understanding immature individuals’ behaviour during different phases of annual cycles and changes of behaviour during maturation is crucial to understand demography, population trends and conservation of rare and endangered species.
The key aims of this PhD study are related to the behaviour such as migration, dispersal patterns, survival and factors influencing it, space and habitat use, and these changes during maturation before attaining adulthood in birds of prey (Accipitriformes). For the analyses will be used data collected by two complementary methods, i.e., telemetry and colour ringing.