For Andrew Dolby, a stressed-out bird is a big deal. Dolby, professor and chair of the biology department, is researching the stress response in birds, specifically, the Tufted Titmouse.
During the spring semester he worked with three students to catch birds on UMW property and at sites in southern Stafford County. They took their measurements and vital signs and collected small blood samples for fellow biology professor Deborah O’Dell to perform heat shock protein analysis in the Jepson Hall labs. Heat shock proteins, similar in function to stress hormones, are indicators of chronic stress. Sources of chronic stress for a bird might be habitat deterioration, parasitism, or long-term food shortages. Dolby and O’Dell received a grant from the Virginia Society of Ornithology for the unique project.
“Only two other laboratories in North America are using heat shock proteins to study stress in free-ranging birds,” Dolby said.
Since the proteins are found in almost every organism, including humans, research like Dolby’s could have broad implications for recognizing and managing stress.
He will continue to collect data next winter in hopes of possibly presenting his work at a conference or publishing in a scientific journal.
In the meantime, he emphasized that the research opportunities provided by projects like this one, help students prepare for graduate school.
“Our main priority is to do what we can to help students advance their scientific careers,” Dolby said.