Emma Penning successfully defends PhD on “Sanderlinks”

Past November 28th, BirdEyes MT member Emma Penning successfully defended her PhD thesis “Sanderlinks” at the University of Groningen. Emma’s doctoral research was motivated by the fact that Sanderling numbers recently started increasing in the Dutch Wadden Sea, in particular on the islet of Griend. This positive trend runs counter to the generally negative trends in shorebird numbers. Plenty of cause to dive deeper into the species’ ecology in the Wadden Sea!

With the help of her promotores Theunis Piersma and Laura Govers, and co-promotor Allert Bijleveld, she set out to investigate the possible causes of this change. Through diligent observations, analyses of faecal samples, and by developing an ingenious methods to study the distribution of Sanderling prey, Emma was able to show that Sanderling depend heavily on young shrimp, during their passage through the Wadden Sea, and that these young shrimp are nowadays available at earlier dates in spring, and in higher numbers than they used to be.As such, the increase of Sanderling at Griend appears to be a by-product of climate change, though as Emma emphasises during her defense, and in this interview for Nature Today, that is not necessarily good news for Sanderling. In her own words: “If temperatures will rise in the coming decades, it remains to be seen how sanderlings and the rest of nature in the Wadden Sea will respond.

Cover of Emma Penning’s thesis “Sanderlinks”

Centre for global ecological change at the University of Groningen

Birdeyes is a science and creative centre that views the world - almost literally - through the eyes of birds. More and more birds are flying around with tiny transmitters, loggers and other high technology on their backs and legs. This generates an unimaginable amount of information. By cleverly combining such data with other sources of information, and by using new ways to tell stories and share the insights with, BirdEyes strives to open up a new knowledge network. The centre aims to be an innovative part of the University of Groningen and is linked to the Rudolph Agricola School for Sustainable Development. BirdEyes, with empirical and inspirational roots in the farthest corners of the world.

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