Current Research

This page summarizes my current research projects within the scope of my PhD thesis and beyond.

 
 

The Ecology of highly unsaturated fatty acids

For my PhD candidacy exam, I synthesized the existing literature on highly unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (HUFA), which resulted in a review paper (Twining et al. 2016 Oikos). I discussed the importance of HUFA for animals, the dichotomy between HUFA availability at the base of aquatic and terrestrial food webs, and the ecological implications of mismatches between HUFA supply and demand.

 
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HUFA IMPROVE performance in stream Fish and riparian birds

In my dissertation, I've studied how the effects of HUFA on performance for stream fish (Blacknose Dace, Rhinichthys atratulus) and for riparian aerial insectivore chicks (Tree Swallows, Tachycineta bicolor; and Eastern Phoebes, Sayornis phoebe). In both fish and birds, I found that increasing HUFA in diet increased growth rates and body condition, in both Tree Swallows and Blacknose Dace, I found that decreasing HUFA increased metabolic rates (even after size correction), and in Tree Swallows, I found that HUFA also increased immunocompetence. In Tree Swallows, I also found that food quality in terms of HUFA was as if not more important than food quantity (total calories). 

 
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Limnology for the ornithologist

I started out my scientific training in limnology, but have been moving into the terrestrial realm by using my background in aquatic ecology to ask questions in avian ecology. In this research I also borrow tools from nutrition including fatty acid composition analyses, bulk stable isotopes, and compound-specific stable isotopes. In my dissertation, I've also been asking the following questions about riparian aerial insectivores in natural systems around Ithaca, NY: 

  1. Do emergent aquatic insects contain more HUFA than terrestrial insects and how does their fatty acid composition vary at a landscape level? 
  2. Where do riparian aerial insectivores get their overall diet from and how does this vary at a landscape level? (Bulk stable isotopes)
  3. Where do riparian aerial insectivores get their HUFA and how does this vary vary at a landscape level? (Compound-specific stable isotopes)