Dr. Robert J. Smith

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Dr. Robert Smith maintains an active and dynamic research program, and makes it a point to involve students in every aspect of research.

In addition, Dr. Smith actively engages the community by conducting demonstrations and nature walks to numerous organizaions, including the Lacawac sanctuary.

In summer 2008, he received a grant from the university to study the ecology of landbird migraiton. Below is a description of his research project.

My research emphasizes the behavior, ecology and conservation of landbird* migrants.  Over half of all landbirds breeding in the United States and Canada migrate to tropical wintering areas in Mexico, Central and South America as well as the islands in the Caribbean.  Through the course of their movement these migrants travel thousands of kilometers, often through unfamiliar habitats and uncertain weather, stopping at periodic intervals (stopover sites) to rest and rebuild energy stores necessary for fueling a continued migration.  Migration is a high-risk, energetically costly event that takes its toll in increased mortality, especially among young, naïve birds of the year.  How migrants respond to the energy demand of long-distance flight and cope with contingencies that arise throughout the migratory period is key to their survival and successful reproduction, and constitutes the basic questions behind my research program at The University of Scranton.

I am currently focusing on two basic questions regarding the ecology and ecophysiology of landbird migration.  These include:

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1.  Transition between phases of the annual cycle:  The annual cycle of birds is synchronized to segregate the major energy-demanding functions of molt, migration and reproduction.  However, this synchronization does not preclude the possibility that events occurring in one phase of the annual cycle influence fitness in a subsequent phase.  We (numerous students from the University of Scranton and myself) examine linkages between stages by focusing on the behavioral ecology and ecophysiology of migrant landbirds upon arrival at their breeding grounds and their subsequent reproductive performance. 

2.  Habitat use during migration: Given the extreme energetic requirements of migration the ability for a migrant to locate suitable habitat to stop, rest and refuel is essential.  However, our knowledge of how transients use habitat and what habitat elements (e.g., food, cover) are important during migration is poor.  We study habitat use and the consequences of that use by migrating landbirds through Northeastern Pennsylvania.  We are especially interested in the influence of invasive exotic vegetation, such as Tartarian Honeysuckle, by migratory landbirds.
We use a variety of methods to address our questions.  These include counting birds identified by sight and sound, collecting data on where and how birds forage, capturing birds in mist nets, collecting data and blood samples from birds in the hand, finding nests and monitoring/measuring nestlings.

*The term “landbird” refers generally to small birds (usually exclusive of raptors and upland game birds) not usually associated with aquatic habitats.

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