Presenting your own work allows a chance to network!

What an experience!

Truly the HiLIFE traineeship period has given me so much, not only in experiences but in chances to grow and develop as a person. I have managed to collect behavioural data on reed warbler incubation (see my previous post, on to fear or not to fear) and submit my thesis for evaluation. Although in the researching world there is always something that can be polished off and rewritten, I am confident in the quality and standard of my work, thanks to the invaluable help from my supervisor and the research team. What amazed me the most was how helpful and willing others were to answer my questions, take time off their busy schedule to help me and provide me with constructive critique that helped me develop as a young researcher. These last months have left me a lot richer in skills and experiences.

Me presenting my poster at the Spring Symposium 2022.

During the last months, I had the chance to present my work in several varying setting with a changing audience and style of presentation. Although I managed to create interactive and engaging power points targeting different audiences, I must say the highlight was the poster session I got to attend. This was a part of the LUOVA Spring Symposium, organized by doctoral students, focusing on the research in ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation. Here I presented my work to a wide audience, from fellow students to foreign researchers. The questions and constructive feedback I received helped me dive deeper into my work, and I could see new ideas taking shape through conversations I had with others. The cherry on top of the cake was that this gave me the opportunity to form new connections and network in the researching world, as well as glimpse at the current biology research that is carried out at the University of Helsinki.

Discussing scientific work with others gives a chance to hear other ideas on the same topic.

Although research is very individual based work and stems from personal interests, I learned the importance of sharing differing perspectives and ideas through conversation. As one starts to dive deeper into a topic, it may be harder to see the broader questions that arise from the work at hand. Discussing with others and brainstorming the overall impact of the topic provides a broad umbrella that allows the work to be applicable for several different research questions, as well as allows others to take the key aspects into account within their own research. This forms a web of support for the current research at hand. I am thankful to have been a part of a research group with individuals from various backgrounds, that provided diverse ideas and opinions that helped me build my research into the landscape of fear concept. As a young researcher, the help and support of experienced researchers is critical to navigate the field full of emerging questions. An extra special thank you for this to my supervisor, Rose Thorogood.

A couple of days ago an old professor told me that a few decades ago, research, particularly in birds, used to be dominated by one researcher. This meant that one researcher specialized on one species, and it was frowned upon if somebody wanted to study that species individually. I was surprised at this, and we had a very interesting discussion on why this was the case. We both agreed that research becomes richer the more people look at a similar species (or question) from their own personal angle. This provides more ideas and opportunities to form a diverse understanding of why we see what we see in nature. I really feel that my traineeship has allowed me to see this richness through working in a research group.

Having had the chance to watch experts within their fields navigate research topics, I realize there is a vast ground of knowledge to be consumed. I feel that some of these skills can be best gained in the working world, to understand what data is already existing and waiting to be analysed and pondered upon. We are very lucky to live in a society where the government supports museums and the upkeep of long-term data sets. However, these need to be actively utilized and inspected to determine what type of research is most beneficial for conserving nature and the ecosystem. I am ever so thankful for the HiLIFE traineeship that has supported me and my journey in experiencing the researching world. I hope that in my future, I can continue in the researching world and maybe even provide support to other young researcher someday, as I have been supported by the professors at the University of Helsinki and financially by HiLIFE.

To fear or not to fear: understanding the world of the Reed Warbler

Hi all!

My name is Sarella Arkkila and I am a second year masters student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Helsinki. I did my bachelor’s in Animal Behaviour at the University of Aberdeen and knew that this is what my passion lies in. Coming to the University of Helsinki, my search for a research group studying animal behaviour began. I found the amazing Information Ecology and Co-evolution research group ( ) led by Prof. Rose Thorogood and knew that this is where I wanted to continue my career within biology. I was honoured to be allowed to join the research group.

My thesis work is on the effect of the landscape of fear on the parenting behaviour of the Eurasian reed warbler. Landscape of fear (LOF) is how animals view their surroundings and the different risks associated within that surrounding. There are several factors that contribute to the LOF, such as the perception of the risk of predators and parasites. LOF in turn influences an animal’s behaviour in different areas of its habitat. For example, in an area where an animal perceives the predation risk to be higher, they may exhibit more vigilance behaviour. These changes in vigilance behaviour can influence foraging efficiency and parental provisioning, as the focus is on spotting and avoiding predation, which can ultimately affect an animal’s fitness. The study of LOF is crucial especially now that environments are changing rapidly, and where new pressures arise and the survival of species within their new or existing habitats are uncertain.

Within the concept of LOF, a few studies have been done on how changes in perceived risk of predation impact indirectly on fitness, but perceived risk of parasitism is yet to be tested. The common cuckoo is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in other species’ nests, one of which is the reed warbler. The reed warbler changes its behavioural defences when it perceives that it is at greater risk of parasitism by cuckoos. This behavioural change can either result from direct observations of seeing a cuckoo or from social information from neighbouring birds attacking a cuckoo in its nest. However it is unknown if this perception of greater risk of parasitism has indirect and long-term effects on behaviour, ultimately affecting the quality of parenting.

Looking for Reed Warbler nests within the reeds around Helsinki.

To understand the impact of the LOF from parasitism, I conducted fieldwork with the research group in the summer 2021. As part of another experiment, we manipulated the social information (SI) that the birds received about cuckoos by using model nests (previously collected nests), threats (painted 3D models), and alarm call playbacks. I then compared their ‘fear-type’ behaviour both during the presentations and afterwards to birds presented with alarm calls but an innocuous ‘threat’ (a teal), or to ambient teal calls as a control. I collected behavioural observations from video recordings at the nests, which gave me a ‘reed warbler’s perspective’ that could not be gained by observing the birds in person. To evaluate the long-term impact of the LOF, I then recorded parental behaviour 6 days later during incubation, and then again once the chicks had hatched.

A reed warbler incubating its eggs, a screenshot taken from an incubation video.

For my Master’s thesis, I have been watching a sample of these video recordings to determine how socially-provided information about parasitism risk influences behaviour. Thanks to the HiLIFE traineeship, I can now dive deeper into the videos to find out more about the longer-term effects of fear and publish a scientific article on the findings. I hope to be able to share the study results with you after this fantastic HiLIFE traineeship period. Wish me luck!