Category Archives: Outreach Project

Stress & Survival: Birds Hanging in the Balance

As university students, we spend plenty of time trying to manage our stress levels when dealing with a plethora of assignments, projects, and exams. Stress has proven to affect the academic performance of students, but did you know that it may be the key to survival for birds in ever changing climactic conditions?

Biologist Roslyn Dakin and a team of researchers recently published a study with one goal in mind – to determine how stress affects the survival of baby tree swallows.

Tree Swallow | By Peter Wilton (Tree Swallow Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

 In order to manipulate the stress levels of the swallows, Dakin implanted corticosterone pellets into their bloodstream. Corticosterone, a stress hormone, has been shown to impact how often a mother would feed their offspring. Therefore, experimenting with its levels should affect survival.

So what exactly did Dakin find? Their results were seriously disturbed by exceptionally cold and wet weather, the ramifications of which are discussed in the podcast below:

The study revealed some extremely complex relationships between stress, weather, parental investment, and ultimately, survival. An increase in corticosterone did not necessarily lead to an decrease in mortality, as predicted. In fact, the offspring of mothers with higher corticosterone levels showed an increased risk of failure. In inclement weather, however, all individuals had a high likelihood of mortality.

One fascinating finding involved the relationship between the male and female parents. As expected, with  high female feeding rates, the offspring were more likely to survive. However, high male feeding rates combined with corticosterone-implanted females resulted in a higher risk of failure compared to females without the implants. Why is this the case? Wouldn’t more care from a parent allow for better survival? Several hypotheses were proposed. Highly invested males may be more sensitive to changes in their partner. As well, the female may be more likely to abandon their offspring if they feel that the male could care for the offspring on their own.

Field site at the Queen’s University Biological Station, Ontario | Credit: Adam Lendvai

More questions were raised than answered in the study, and unfortunately swallow populations continue to dwindle in Ontario, where the experiment took place. Clearly, any solution proposed will have a variety of factors at play. Nonetheless, we valiantly attempted to tackle the issue of declining bird populations in unpredictable weather – check out our video below for more!

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Tim Cheung, Peggy Hung, Kamyar Kazemiashtiani, & Josephina Kim

The Benefits of Travelling

Last year I had the absolute privilege to spend a year abroad through the go global program at UBC.  I studied in Leiden, The Netherlands and spent much of my time exploring and travelling around continental Europe.  While travelling, I always thought about what I was doing and how it would compare if I were to stay at home.  I always wondered what the real point of travelling or being abroad was.  Turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this and there is a wealth of research to suggest the benefits travel can provide.

The first benefit that may surprise most is ones overall health.  Many studies have compared those who travel often with those who do not finding that well travelled individuals are in an overall better health condition.  For example, a study by Chun-Chun Chen and James Petrick reviewed past literature on the overall health benefits of travel and found there to be a lower risk of diseases such as heart attacks.  They also found that stress levels were lower among those who travel which can help reduce many other complications.  It is also interesting to note that these health benefits were observed to gradually diminish after returning from a trip.

Video: TEDx Talks

The benefits of travel do not stop at ones health and wellbeing it can also extend to peoples work lives and overall career success.  This may seem counter intuitive since travel is often viewed as the opposite of work but many studies show that time off results in a more productive work ethic.  Lots of evidence points to the need to relax and clear your mind to be able to produce better work.  This is applied to many work offices at Google. Other studies also point to a correlation between university degree completion and higher incomes with those who travel more.

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Video: BBC

The last point I want to make is actually one I realized myself while being abroad.  I think it is one of the more important points.  Through my experiences in different countries and from simply reading the news its not hard to notice the many conflicts that exist between people around the world.  I noticed that those who remain isolated and out of touch from other countries and cultures have more negative thoughts and stereotypes towards others which often results in meaningless conflicts with big consequences.  Travel provides people with a real experience to which they can base their beliefs on and the ability to realize that we are all in the world together.  This can ultimately overcome many ideological differences and create a better understanding of one another pushing towards a more peaceful and meaningful population.