Guest post from Matt Silk, PhD researcher at the University of Exeter
I’m a PhD student based down in Falmouth in the same research group as Bea. I even chase geese with the same purpose in mind; to build social networks in an attempt to understand what the causes and consequences of social structure are in these highly social animals. The main difference is that my project is focussed at an individual level, looking at what the consequences of being very popular or a pariah are on behaviour and life-history traits.
That and I study different geese! I work on the long-term study population of light-bellied brent geese that spend the winter around the coasts of Ireland before undertaking an epic journey back to the Canadian Arctic, stopping over in Iceland during late spring to refuel. The idea here is that this long journey and inhospitable breeding location make social interactions during the winter and spring important through their effects on foraging success.
If social interactions are important than we expect individuals to vary in the social strategy (ie. position in the social network that they occupy) and that this may be associated with variation in aggressive behaviour, and their ability to maintain and then increase their fat stores. This disparity will then influence the probability of individuals being able to breed successfully and thus the prediction that social strategy is linked to reproductive success.
I’ve now spent nearly a whole year chasing the brent round Dublin then up as far as Reykjavik, Iceland, and have collected not far off 10,000 resightings of our colour-ringed individuals and recorded about 30 hours of behavioural observations. There’s another year of that to come, some speedy learning of techniques to help me analyse it all and then I’ll be at a stage to get to grips properly with the questions outlined above…