Science and art unite
An image of a tiny bird from a remote island in British Columbia has seen a UQ researcher shortlisted for a top photography prize.
Environmental science honours student Karri Hartley returned in April after spending a month studying the song sparrows of Mandarte Island, which sits in the waters of the Strait of Georgia northeast of Victoria, Canada.
Ms Hartley’s image of a five-day-old chick fitted with a combination of coloured ID tags, was one of the top 25 submissions in the 2010 Australian Museum Eureka Science Photography Prize, and was on display earlier this year in Melbourne’s Federation Square.
On three-to-five day expeditions which lasted from dawn to dusk, Ms Hartley and her colleagues worked out the location of each bird nest on the island.
Once they were found, the team secured newborn chicks, outfitting them with tags and taking blood samples.
The 30-year study, led by Professor Peter Arcese of the University of British Columbia, is unique because each sparrow is essentially part of a giant family tree.
Each bird has been identified in a similar way since 1975, producing a complete social and genetic pedigree for the researchers to examine; a kind of Who Do You Think You Are? for the birds of the island.
“Due to the negative impact of humans, many animal populations are being reduced, threatened or endangered with extinction. This research can help us understand the preservation needs of at risk animals,” Ms Hartley said.
“It’s important because the findings can point to management actions for other small populations threatened with extinction.”
Ms Hartley said her shortlisted photo captured her twin passions of conservation and communicating science to the wider community.
“Through photography we can bridge the gap between science and art and in doing so, show that the two aren’t irreconcilable. Photography evokes emotion instantly, and it provides the public with an insight to science they may never have seen before,” she said.
Other shortlisted entries included remarkable photographs of stars and nebulae, and insects devouring their prey.
After graduating in 2011, Ms Hartley hopes to find a position that can harness both her research and photographic skills.
By Allison Rock
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