Dr Jennifer Lavers completed her PhD at Memorial University of Newfoundland, on a tiny island in south-east Canada. She therefore felt prepared for life in Tasmania, a small island located off the south-east coast of Australia. The research she leads at Adrift Lab focuses on using wild species, especially birds, as sentinels (indicators) of physical and chemical pollution in marine and freshwater environments. Islands also feature at Adrift Lab, as remote areas can act as natural ‘controls’. Jennifer invests significant time in science communication, including feature roles in documentary films such as A Plastic Ocean, BLUE, and Drowning in Plastic.
She currently works as a Lecturer in Marine Science at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Tasmania where she teaches a number of courses, including marine conservation and ecological statistics. She sits on a number of advisory boards, including Plastic Oceans Australasia and is a member of the Specialist Committee on Seabirds and Plastic Pollution (SCSPP) with the World Seabird Union. Her publications and recent media/awards are listed under the “News” and “Research” tabs above.
Marine plastic pollution is increasing exponentially, impacting an expanding number of taxa each year across all trophic levels. Of all bird groups, seabirds display the highest plastic ingestion rates and are regarded as sentinels of pollution within their foraging regions. The consumption of plastic contributes to sub-lethal impacts (i.e. morbidity, starvation) in a handful of species.
For over 60 years, our oceans have been a reservoir for exponentially increasing amounts of plastic waste. Plastic has been documented at all levels of the marine food web, from the deepest oceanic trenches to the most far-flung beaches. Here, we present data on the presence of significant quantities of plastic on the remote Cocos (Keeling) Island group, located 2,100 km off the northwest coast of Australia.
Marine predators are frequently exposed to contaminants through diet, and thus contaminants like mercury have the potential to be used as tracers of foraging ecology. Mercury’s neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting effects can have far-ranging consequences for both individuals and populations, and thus mercury concentrations could also be indicative of wildlife health.
This study provides the first quantification of ultrafine plastic in seabirds using chemical and biological digestion treatments to extract plastic items from seabird gizzards. The alkaline agent, potassium hydroxide, outperformed the enzyme corolase, based on cost and efficiency (e.g., digestion time). Ultrafine plastics were observed in 7.0% of Flesh-footed Shearwater (Ardenna carneipes) gizzards collected from Lord Howe Island,
Invasive rodents are successful colonists of many ecosystems around the world, and can have very flexible foraging behaviours that lead to differences in spatial ranges and seasonal demography among individuals and islands. Understanding such spatial and temporal information is critical to plan rodent eradication operations, and a detailed examination of an island’s rat population can expand our knowledge about possible variation in behaviour and demography of invasive rats in general.
Rodent eradications in tropical environments are often more challenging and less successful than those in temperate environments. Reduced seasonality and the lack of a defined annual resource pulse influence rodent population dynamics differently than the well-defined annual cycles on temperate islands, so an understanding of rodent ecology and population dynamics is important to maximise the chances of eradication success in the tropics.
Burrow-nesting seabirds present many challenges for determining abundance reliably. We used burrow scopes to determine the population status of Flesh-footed Shearwaters on Lord Howe Island. Comparing two burrow scope models, we found >50% of burrow contents were classified differently. Our results highlight a need for regular surveys to quantify detection probability so that as video technology advances, previous estimates remain comparable.
Gadfly petrels (Pterodroma spp.) are one of the most threatened and poorly studied seabird groups, and as marine predators, are exposed to biomagnified and bioaccumulated chemical pollutants from their prey. We quantified trace element concentrations in breast feathers of seven petrel species that breed in the southern hemisphere to quantify current concentrations.
Divergent foraging strategies may emerge within a population due to a combination of physiological and environmental factors; yet to persist, neither strategy should offer a consistent selective advantage over the alternative in the long term.
We compared the characteristics of debris incorporated within brown booby nests and in beach transects at 18 sites, to determine if nests are indicators of the amount of debris in local marine environments
Dr Jennifer Lavers has just returned from filming Blue Planet Live on Heron Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef. The four episodes aired live on BBC One during 26-31 March 2019 and discussed threats to the ocean, including coral bleaching, declining seabird populations, and increasing plastic pollution.
Adrift Lab collaborated with RMIT and citizen scientists to collect samples from Moulting Lagoon to analyse as indicators of pollution by PFAS. Moulting Lagoon is an important Ramsar Wetland site, and is home to many species which can be affected by anthropogenic debris and pollution.
In early March, members of Adrift Lab attended a Clean Up Australia Day event at Launceston’s Royal Park. The event received criticism online, with commenters claiming that there was no substantial amount of rubbish in Royal Park.
Three Adrift Lab papers have been referenced in the IUCN Proceedings of the conference on island invasives 2017.
Last week members of Adrift Lab braved the early hours of the morning once again to participate in a bird banding trip. As discussed in our last article on bird banding, the aim of the process is to build long-term data sets that allows for meaningful analysis.
Dr Jennifer Lavers joined Alicia Amerson on the Projects for Wildlife Podcast to talk about her research, and how people can get closer to living zero waste lives.
Susie Philpot’s first paper has been accepted by Environmental Science and Pollution Research. The paper details the bioaccumulation of deleterious trace elements in seven petrel species. Susie’s research uses these species as bio-indicators of the health of the ecosystems in which they dwell.
Last year, Dr Jennifer Lavers was contacted by American artist Tina Hinojosa, who wanted to create an art-science piece using marine debris. Dr Lavers sent some plastic that had been ingested by flesh-footed shearwaters on Lord Howe island.
The Plastic Seas curriculum includes engaging videos and #STEM design challenges created by teachers for teachers. All materials are available for free at www.earthecho.org/Expeditions beginning 15 Jan 2019.