Placement blog by Lucie Queste, ACCE student at the Univerity of York
During my placement at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), I worked on a project studying the effects of mite presence in nests of the Hihi bird in New Zealand to inform conservation management.
Hihi birds are a species of passerines that were once found throughout the North Island as well as other islands of New Zealand. Their distribution was reduced to Little Barrier Island by the early ’80s due to habitat destruction and predation from introduced species. Translocation efforts were therefore initiated resulting in several successful reintroductions of Hihi populations which are still carefully monitored to this day. Despite considerable efforts, high levels of mortality subsist during the nesting stage and evidence suggest that ectoparasites present in the nests play a role in this.
As part of my placement, I collated and analysed mite information from field notes spanning over 20 years to identify trends in mite presence and abundance. This information can then be used to adjust management effort to reduce mortality from ectoparasites.
This experience was very enriching as it helped me understand the balance between research and its application for real-life management of endangered populations. For conservation, money, feasibility, human communities and time are important concerns. On the other hand, research is driven by funding which is typically given to “ground-breaking” science which leads to high impact publications. These aspects of conservations and research are by no means mutually exclusive, but an understanding of the needs and limitations of both sides is key to successfully carrying out research that can have an impact.
I feel that I have learnt a lot in the three months at ZSL, not only through the project but through interacting with the people and the research. I think I could have started with a clearer idea of what I was going to do during my internship to make the most of my time as in the end, I was not able to finish everything I wanted in three months. However, this experience has shown me new ways to work and tackle projects which were hugely beneficial for finishing my PhD.
In the long term, my placement has made me seriously consider my options for the type of research I want to carry out and the impact I can have through it.