Zoology and parasitology
Ornithology group focuses mainly on research on the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea). It is a species that nests in areas of the High Arctic and migrates annually to wintering grounds around Antarctica.
- Nesting behaviour of the Arctic tern and the influence by human presence.
In Svalbard, Arctic terns usually nest in the tundra far from human settlements, but they can also nest in the immediate vicinity of humans (in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund there are nests directly between houses and along roads). Due to the increasing tourism, Arctic terns are disturbed by people more intensively even in colonies far from human towns. We study how they react to the increasing disturbance by people.
- Return time to the nest after human disturbance.
The study about the rate of the return time of disturbed terns has shown that terns nesting at frequently disturbed sites return to the nest and to incubate eggs much faster than terns at undisturbed sites. This imply that terns nesting in cities can be adapted to human presence. A similar trend of habituation of birds to the human factor can be observed in our country also, where urban birds benefit from their stay close to human, such as greater food supply in the form of garbage or lower predation pressure.
- Nest defence against predators.
We place dummies of bird predators (eggs and chicks) and adults close to the terns’ nests and evaluate the intensity of the terns' response. In the high Arctic, there are less predators than in lower latitudes. In Svalbard, there are only predators of nests - a glaucous gull, a great skua and a parasitic jaeger. While at lower latitudes, there are more species of large gulls (e.g. a great black-backed gull), but also other species such as a raven or a peregrine falcon. The main idea of this project is to find out if terns react to known bird predators as well as to unknown ones.
- The ecology of the longest migration among animals.
The Arctic tern belongs among the longest migratory birds at all. Every year, Arctic terns undertake a stunning journey from nests in the northern hemisphere to wintering grounds around Antarctica. They are able to fly up to an incredible 100,000 km (the longest measured traction route) annually. We use small devices (geolocators) to map migration of Arctic terns from the northernmost breeding colonies in the Arctic.
External collaborators: Martins Briedis (Swiss ornithological institute), Jiří Flousek (Krkonoše mountains national park), Petr Veselý (Faculty of Science USB)
II. Parasitology and Infection Biology
1. The study of life cycle of trematodes from the family Opecoelidae occurring in gastropods Buccinium spp.and family Gymnophalidae from bivalves Mya truncata and Hiatella arctica.
2. Study of other helminths found in fish and selected invertebrate hosts.
3. Examination of tissues and organs if selected vertebrate and invertebrate hosts with the aim of the histological studies of parasites from the groups Apicomplexa, Myxozoa, Microsporidia, Ciliata and the isolation of amphizoic amoebas.
4. Mapping of biodiversity of littoral biocenoses
5. Intestinal parasites of mammals and birds
Examination of feces using classical coprological methods and molecular analyses. Special attention is paid to parasites of Polar Fox (Vulpes lagopus) and Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus), as well as to parasites of introduced mammals (vole Microtus levis and dog).
6. Searching for arboviruses and influenza viruses
Using molecular analyses, the mosquitoes Aedes nigripes (larvae and adult females) and ticks Ixodes uriae are examined for arboviruses. Oropharyngeal and cloacal swabs as well as droppings of selected species birds are screened for influenza viruses. Antibodies against bird influenza have been already recorded in serum samples of Black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla).
III. Ecology of Terrestrial and Freshwater Invertebrates
1. Development of soil communities on ecological gradients
In Arctic environment, soils are mostly in initial stages of development and soil invertebrates are composed mainly of hydrobiont microfauna and mesofauna. We focus on community analysis with emphasis to detailed taxonomical composition of various groups and functional connections inside and outside of soil environment.
2. Freshwater lakes and food webs
Arctic lakes hosts typically simplified food web of producers, herbivores and carnivores, which allows relatively simple analysis of their relative importance and studies of detailed ecological questions. Differences in shape, chemistry, age and physical conditions, allows comparison of different community response, as well as analysis of populations under various types of stress.
3. Ecophysiology and functional adaptations of soil organisms
Strong arctic conditions allow development of physiological and ecological adaptations on survival of soil fauna in confrontation with low temperature and droughts. We study such adaptations on soil meso- and microfauna mainly, using advanced methods quantitative field sampling.