Sarah Neima is a fourth-year biology honours student working in Diana Hamilton’s lab. Her research focus is on semipalmated Sand pipers (Calidris pusilla). Sandpipers are small, migratory shorebirds with long bodies and narrow wings. They have sensitive bills, which allow the birds to feel bud or sand as they probe for food. They have plumaged with brown and grey streaked patterns.
The birds that are studied in Diana Hamilton’s labs are studied in the Bay of Fundy. Diana Hamilton is a community ecologist, who does most of her studies in the mudflats of the Bay of Fundy. She studies all the organisms that live and depend on the mudflats and how they interact with each other. Recent studies have concentration a lot on sandpipers, specifically their movement, how long they stay in the Bay, their amount of local movement, and how they move between mudflats and different roosting sites.
Sandpipers breed in the Arctic and spend their winters in areas of South America, but stop in the Bay of Fundy during their fall migration. The Bay of Fundy acts as a fuel stop, as the birds stop there in order to fuel up and build fat reserves for the long migration ahead.
Neima’s thesis, “Movement and diet in male and female semipalmated sand pipers in the Upper Bay of Fundy,” focuses on the differences between males and females. Female sand pipers tend to arrive to the Bay of Fundy first, with males trailing behind. This behaviour pattern could potentially reveal a difference between sexes.
Neima conducts her research by tracking sand pipers. Ninety birds were caught and attached with small radio transmitters using a process called VHF (very high frequency) Telamitry. The transmitters are used to track their movement around the Bay. Seventeen stationary towers are set up in locations where they’re known to feed and roost, so Neima is continuously getting data as the birds are “hanging out.” Neima also flies in a small, fixed wing aircraft in order to pick up radio transmissions from birds.
Neima is also interested in the sand piper’s diet. Different food can affect their weight gain, which is important for the birds’ chances of survival. How they assess their diet is by taking samples of invertebrates in the mudflats. Blood samples are then taken from the birds and undergo stable isotope analysis. The level of isotopes in the invertebrates is then compared to the isotopes in the blood, and from there a picture of what the birds eat is then painted. This is a more theoretical research approach.
When asked why she chose biology at Mount Allison, Neima said that she had a high school biology teacher who showed her how fun Biology could be, and that she always had an interest in nature and animals. She chose Mt. A because she knew people who attended, and fell in love with the campus when she came to visit. She knew that the small campus would be a good environment to get close to her professors. When asked how she enjoys working with Hamilton, Neima said,
“I worked as an assistant last year and absolutely loved it. There is a fantastic work environment, group dynamic, and Diana is great at getting good group of people together”. She also says this work is perfect for her, as she enjoys “running around outside and getting dirty”.