Plenary Speakers

We will begin each morning with a plenary address at 8:00 a.m. in the Golden Pacific Ballroom.  In addition to the three invited speakers below, three finalists for the COS Young Professional Award will deliver presentations during a plenary session on Thursday, 11 February 2010, followed by a keynote presentation by Renee Duckworth, recipient of the 2009 Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award.

Kathy Martin

Plenary Presentation title:  “The World Wide Nest Web: how excavators and decay shape cavity nesting bird communities”

Dr. Kathy Martin is a Professor of Wildlife Ecology in the Forest Sciences Department at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and a Senior Research Scientist with Environment Canada.  She completed her BSc at the University of Prince Edward Island and graduate degrees at the University of Alberta and Queen’s University, Ontario.  Kathy has always been fascinated by how species persist in extreme and challenging environments.  For several decades, she has conducted research on population ecology and life history variation of alpine and arctic grouse and songbirds, especially in relation to environmental variability. Since 1995, she and her students have conducted research on the community ecology of cavity nesters and other forest birds in relation to forestry activities and insect outbreaks.

Abstract:  In forest and savannah ecosystems, 20-40% of vertebrate species depend on tree cavities to reproduce or for other critical life activities. The cavity nesting habit has arisen in a wide variety of avian families and across continents, and often varies within genera. Nest cavities in trees provide secure environments to raise offspring, but generally the supply of high quality cavities close to other life requisites is quite low.  I developed the Nest Web concept to describe the interdependence of cavity producers and consumers in structured-nidic guilds where species interact through the creation of and competition for nest sites. Globally, cavity formation depends on the presence of fungus and decay in trees.  In the Nest Webs of North America, some woodpeckers function as keystone species as they excavate over 90% of the holes used by secondary cavity nesting birds and mammals.  On other continents, secondary cavity nesters primarily use cavities formed by decay or damage, even when woodpeckers are present. Although hole formation processes differ, especially between temperate and tropical systems, cavity nesters use remarkably consistent rules for nest site selection.  

Kenneth P. Dial

Plenary Presentation title: “Ecological and evolutionary significance of the locomotor development in Birds”

Dr. Kenneth P. Dial has been the Director of the Flight Laboratory in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Montana for over 20 years.  A native of Southern California, son of an aeronautical engineer, Ken grew up next to LAX and the Ballona Wetlands fueling his interest at an early age in animal and aircraft flight.  Ken is an active jet pilot holding airline transport plane (ATP), instrument, commercial, and multi-engine ratings.  He obtained his bachelor’s in biology at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, his MS at California State University, Long Beach, and Ph.D. at Northern Arizona University.  Following a post-doctoral fellowship at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University where he studied the anatomy and physiology of bird flight, Dial assumed a professorship at the University of Montana.  Ken continues to teach a graduate field course in Tanzania on the evolutionary ecology of East Africa.  He also hosted 36 episodes of Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet “All Bird TV.”  Dial’s research activities focus on experimental studies of avian flight, specifically the ontogeny and scaling of avian locomotion, in an effort to offer new perspectives on the ecology, origin, and evolution of avian flight.

Abstract:  Despite over a century of debate, the evolution of avian flight remains one of the most fiercely contested topics in evolutionary biology, and resolution cannot be possible without a more rigorous method for assessing the validity of competing hypotheses.  Until recently, essentially all published efforts on the origin of avian flight fell into one of two traditional camps, arboreal or cursorial; a distinction considered by some to represent a false dichotomy.  As it becomes increasingly evident that conventional avenues of investigating locomotor transitional stages are unable to discriminate between alternative or even plausible scenarios, a more incisive experimental approach is required to limit the proliferation of non-falsifiable hypotheses.  The time appears ripe for young scientists from diverse disciplines to delve into this volatile subject and energize our thinking beyond the traditional scope.  Mining new data derived from extant species (e.g., behavior, life history biology, developmental biology, genetics, experimental functional morphology and physiology) that can be phylogenetically integrated with the wealth of fossil proto-avian theropod material will lead to more comprehensive and useful theses regarding adaptive states of transitional forms.  In addition, by employing “biological uniformitarianism” we can limit the proliferation of countless permutations of arboreal and cursorial variants –and rely on integrative, observable, and/or testable theses on the origin and evolution of flight.  The ontogenetic-transitional wing hypothesis is presented as the first attempt toward offering an integrative and observable hypothesis regarding transitional stages leading to avian flight.

Scott Derrickson

Plenary Presentation title: “Conservation of Endangered and Threatened Species – Research, Reality, and Future Directions”

Scott R. Derrickson received his BA in Biology at Gettysburg College in 1970.  He pursued graduate studies in the Department of Ecology and Behavioral Biology at the University of Minnesota, where he received his MS in 1975 and Ph.D. in 1977 for studies on Northern Pintails.     From 1977-1983, Scott was a Research Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s  Endangered Species Research Program at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland.  In 1983, Scott moved to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park, where he has served in various capacities as Curator of Ornithology (1983-1987), Deputy Director for Conservation (1987-2006), Deputy Director for Conservation and Science (2006-2009), and Acting Associate Director for Conservation and Science (2009-present).  Over the past 30 years, Scott has been involved in wide variety of avian conservation initiatives and recovery programs. His work has spanned a diverse range of activities including research, captive propagation and management, reintroduction, recovery planning and implementation, and program and policy assessment.  He has authored or coauthored over 65 papers, and received awards from several agencies, conservation organizations, and professional societies for his accomplishments.  Scott was as member of the AOU panel that reviewed the California Condor recovery program in 2007-2008, and was the recipient of the AOU’s Ralph W. Schreiber Conservation Award in 2009.   

Abstract:  Recovery efforts for endangered and threatened species have traditionally focused on the identification and subsequent amelioration of limiting factors, and variety of in situ and ex situ methods have been adopted on a species-by-species basis to alleviate factors affecting survival and fecundity in wild populations.  While significant conservation successes have been recorded, recovery for most endangered species remains elusive because limiting factors remain unknown, have proven intractable, or cannot be addressed effectively within the existing socio-political environment.  Using selected examples of avian recovery programs in which I have been involved over the past three decades, I will illustrate each of these circumstances and then discuss the diversity of research, planning and policy issues associated with these programs.  Given the environmental impacts associated with human population growth and predicted climate change, efforts to preserve biodiversity are moving from single-species programs to multiple-species and ecosystem-wide initiatives.  Success in these initiatives will require fundamental changes in our social priorities and institutions and unprecedented levels of cooperation and coordination among researchers, resource managers, and stakeholders.

Renée Duckworth

Keynote Presentation title: “An Evolutionary Perspective on Avian Range Expansion”

Dr. Renée A. Duckworth is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. Her research is at the interface of ecology, evolution and behavior with specific focus on the role of behavioral change in ecological and evolutionary processes. She received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2006 for her studies of the evolutionary ecology of avian range expansions. She subsequently moved to Edinburgh University, UK as an NSF International Research Fellow to study the genetic of basis of behavioral variation. She continued her postdoctoral work at the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University where she explored the role of behavior in evolutionary diversifications and extinctions. In 2008, she was named the G.G. Simpson Fellow in Evolutionary Biology by the University of Arizona. In addition to receiving the 2009 Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award from the AOU, she is also a recipient of the 2009 Young Investigator Prize from the American Society of Naturalists.

Abstract:  Over the next several decades, numerous avian species are expected to modify their geographical ranges in response to climate change and other anthropogenic effects. Predicting the extent and speed with which such range changes will occur is challenging because we currently have a poor understanding of the mechanisms that enable species to colonize new areas. I will use the empirical example of western bluebirds’ recent range expansion in North America to illustrate the importance of integrating information from ecology, evolution and development to gain insight into the mechanisms of range expansion. In this species, range expansion was accompanied by rapid across-generation shifts from a “colonizing” phenotype of highly dispersive, competitive individuals to a “settler” phenotype of less dispersive and parental individuals. Such cycles enabled population persistence during the process of colonization and were proximately produced by maternal effects on offspring dispersal behavior in response to local resource distribution. I suggest that close integration of maternally-induced developmental variability with changes in resource availability is a product of historical recurrence of fire-induced habitat succession in this species. This work suggests that a combination of developmental and historical approaches are crucial to understanding how species will respond to anthropogenic changes of this century.