April meeting

Wed 12 April 2023 07:30pm

Olivia Congdon - Communicating Superb Fairy-wren research.
Andrew Cockburn
- Lifetime success in Superb Fairy-wrens: a tale of two sexes

The April meeting will be a normal face-to-face one held at our usual venue. Attendees should heed social distancing and good hygiene practice etc, and use their common sense and stay home if they have COVID symptoms. Mask wearing is recommended.

This month there will be 2 presentations giving different perspectives of research on the Superb Fairy-wren.

The shorter speaker will be Olivia Congdon presenting on “Communicating Superb Fairy wren research.”

Olivia is a senior science writer for the ANU College of Science. This talk will describe the challenges and techniques used to create engaging content about science for the public, using a recent story on the long-term study of Superb Fairy-wrens at the Australian National Botanical Gardens as a case study.

This should provide a perfect introduction for the main presentation by Andrew Cockburn, Emeritus Professor at the ANU’s Research School of Biology, on “Lifetime success in Superb Fairy-wrens: a tale of two sexes.”

Triumphing in the trials of life is best estimated by the relative success of individuals in producing young that are themselves successful or go on to produce grandchildren. The logistical difficulties of obtaining such measurements in the field are horrendous, and hence ecologists have focused on certain sorts of animal, usually those with simple societies and modest lifespans that live on islands, where the observers do not need to worry about dispersal, and where predation is often minimal. Helen Osmond and I have devoted more than half our lives to making the appropriate observations on the Superb Fairy-wrens that inhabit the Australian National Botanic Gardens. In this species the social system is horrendously complicated, exceeding the most sordid soap opera in its twists and turns. The fear of predation governs adult behaviour and restricts their foraging, and predation of nests and fledglings can be extreme. Males and females lead very different lives, because males are the ultimate stick at homes, while females must disperse to acquire a breeding slot. In this talk I will review what makes an individual successful, while others are complete losers.

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