Postcards from the field: Sydney Hope in France

May 15, 2018
Postcard from Sydney Hope


Bonjour de France! 

I am currently working at the Centre d’Etudes Biologique de Chizé (CEBC) in Villiers-en-Bois, France, in collaboration with Dr. Frédéric Angelier. I received two grants to be able to conduct research here: the NSF Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide grant and the Chateaubriand Fellowship from the Embassy of France in the US. I arrived in the beginning of February and will be here until the end of August.

My research focuses on parent care behavior and maternal effects—specifically, incubation temperature in birds. The temperature at which bird eggs are incubated is crucial for hatch success, and small changes in temperature have large effects on the morphology, physiology, behavior, and survival of chicks that do hatch. Studying how parental incubation behavior and the incubation temperature of eggs can be influenced by environmental changes and anthropogenic factors can provide insight into how bird populations are being impacted by global change.

At the CEBC, I will be conducting two projects. First, I will analyze prolactin concentrations, which is a hormone that helps regulate parental care behavior, in blood samples that were collected in the field in the US. We collected blood samples from incubating wood duck (Aix sponsa) hens, and I will determine whether clutch size and ambient temperature influence prolactin levels.

My second project will be investigating the impact of urbanization on parental incubation behavior and incubation temperature in great tits (Parus major). I am currently monitoring incubation temperature and behavior in two populations of birds: one is located in the Chizé National Forest, and the other in the city of Niort, France. To monitor incubation temperature, I am installing temperature loggers that I modified with fake great tit eggs into each nest. I’m also monitoring the nestlings once they hatch to determine fitness consequences.

Aside from being able to conduct two research projects, being here is giving me the opportunity to meet great people and see scientific research from a new perspective. I am living at the accommodations at the CEBC with many other students, which gives me many opportunities to learn French, learn more about the education system in France, and learn about French culture. I’m really excited to continue to learn more—both in science and in culture—over the next four months!

– Sydney

Villiers-en-Bois, France