Ryan O'Connor

Université du Québec à Rimouski
Postdoctoral fellow candidate

Supervisor: François Vézina
Start: 2018-11-14


Using thermal modeling to predict the performance responses of Arctic snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) facing rapid environmental change
Many studies have tried to predict the effects of climate change on a species by combining species-specific physiological data with temperature data recorded in the field. Unfortunately, these studies are often flawed due to using air temperature (Ta) data when characterizing an animal’s thermal environment. Ta by itself is a poor indicator of an animal’s thermal environment. Instead, organisms experience microclimates with distinct operative temperatures (Te) that can significantly differ from Ta. Te is a single value index that integrates the physical properties of an animal (e.g., size, shape and color) with the abiotic variables (e.g., Ta, radiation, and wind speed) of a particular microclimate. Consequently, Te represents a more accurate metric of the environmental heat load experienced by an organism. Predicting the ecological impacts of climate change can only occur once one has a thorough understanding of the thermal environments experienced by a species. My project aims to record the Te of microclimates experienced by snow buntings across their Arctic breeding territories. These Te data will subsequently be combined with thermal physiological data previously collected in the laboratory to derive precise field estimates of thermal transfer and thermoregulation in breeding snow buntings. Operative temperatures will be recorded using hollow, three-dimensionally printed Te mounts. Te mounts will be constructed to accurately mimic a snow bunting’s size and shape. Additionally, Te mounts will be painted to match the spectral reflectance properties of snow buntings. Once printed, a temperature probe will be inserted through the bottom of each mount. Each temperature probe will be connected to a data logger that will record Te at 5-minute intervals. Mounts will be deployed using a stratified random design to sample the diversity of microclimates available to snow buntings across their known habitat. Each Te mount will also be oriented in a random cardinal direction. Te mounts will stay at a location for at least 1 month. This length of time will ensure Te mounts experience a range of weather conditions, and in turn, a range of possible Te experienced by snow buntings. This study will take place at the Canadian Forces Station Alert in Nunavut, Canada. Alert is the world’s northernmost permanently inhabited field station.


thermal physiology, microclimate, operative temperature, heat tolerance


1- Avian thermoregulation in the heat: is evaporative cooling more economical in nocturnal birds?
O'Connor, Ryan S., Ben Smit, William A. Talbot, Alexander R. Gerson, R. Mark Brigham, Blair O. Wolf, Andrew E. McKechnie
2018 The Journal of Experimental Biology

2- Extreme operative temperatures in exposed microsites used by roosting Rufous-cheeked Nightjars (Caprimulgus rufigena): implications for water balance under current and future climate conditions
O’Connor, R.S., R.M. Brigham, A.E. McKechnie
2018 Canadian Journal of Zoology

3- Diurnal body temperature patterns in free-ranging populations of two southern African arid-zone nightjars
O'Connor, Ryan S., R. Mark Brigham, Andrew E. McKechnie
2017 Journal of Avian Biology

4- Avian thermoregulation in the heat: efficient evaporative cooling in two southern African nightjars
O’Connor, Ryan S., Blair O. Wolf, R. Mark Brigham, Andrew E. McKechnie
2016 Journal of Comparative Physiology B

5- Notes on the Incubation, Brooding, and Provisioning Behavior of Chuck-will's-widows
O'Connor, Ryan S., Gary Ritchison
2013 The Wilson Journal of Ornithology

6- Nesting Success of Neotropical Thrushes in Coffee and Pasture
Lindell, Catherine A., Ryan S. O'Connor, Emily B. Cohen
2011 The Wilson Journal of Ornithology