2019 Stettenheim Award Winners: Mark Hauber & Phil Stouffer

Phil Stouffer (left) and Mark Hauber (right).

In the lead-up to our annual meeting in Anchorage, we’ll be highlighting the winners of this year’s AOS awards on the blog. This week, the 2019 Peter R. Stettenheim Service Award.

In 2018, the American Ornithological Society (AOS) established the Peter R. Stettenheim Service Award, intended to carry on the tradition of the Cooper Honorary Member Award, one of the oldest awards in ornithology, which was discontinued when the Cooper Ornithological Society merged with the American Ornithologists’ Union to form AOS in 2016. This award is made in honor of a senior ornithologist who has provided extraordinary service to AOS. In 2019, the award is being presented jointly to Dr. Philip Stouffer and Dr. Mark Hauber.

Phil Stouffer was Associate Editor of The Auk from 2002 to 2013 and Editor-in-Chief of The Condor: Ornithological Applications from 2013 to 2019. As the focus of the journal changed from general ornithology to applied ornithology, Dr. Stouffer managed the transition smoothly, raising the impact factor of the journal to first place among ornithology journals worldwide in the process. In addition to his decade-long stint as an editor for the society’s journals, Dr. Stouffer also served as Scientific Program Chair for the North American Ornithological Congress in New Orleans in 2002 and has been a judge for Cooper Ornithological Society Student Presentation Awards and AOS Student Presentation Awards. Dr. Stouffer received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1989 and is currently the Lee F. Mason Professor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA.

Mark Hauber was Associate Editor of The Auk from 2009 to 2011 and Editor-in-Chief of The Auk: Ornithological Advances from 2013 to 2018. Like Dr. Stouffer, Dr. Hauber expertly marshalled The Auk through the change from a general journal of ornithology to a journal that focused on fundamental knowledge of birds and the examination of broad biological concepts through study of birds. In addition to his singular editorial contributions, Dr. Hauber has served as a member of the society’s Student Awards Committee, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Communications Committee, and Publications Committee. He has been an outstanding advocate for diversity in the society, both raising awareness and encouraging participation. Dr. Hauber completed his Ph.D. at Cornell University in 2002 and is currently the Harley Jones Van Cleave Professor of Host-Parasite Interactions in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior at the School of Integrative Biology of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL.

In recognition of their outstanding service to AOS publications, the society is proud to recognize Mark Hauber and Phil Stouffer as the second recipients of the Peter R. Stettenheim Service Award.

AUTHOR BLOG: Do Burrowing Owls aid in the long-distance dispersal of plague-infected fleas?

Kara Navock and Jim Belthoff

Linked paper: Investigation of the geographic origin of burrowing owl fleas with implications for the ecology of plague by K.A. Navock, D.H. Johnson, S. Evans, M.J. Kohn, and J.R. Belthoff, The Auk: Ornithological Advances 136:1, January 2019.

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Collecting samples from a Burrowing Owl nestling. Photo by John Kelly, Boise State University.

Western Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) and Pulex irritans, the so-called human flea, have a curious host-parasite relationship. Although we’ve known about it for some time, many details of their connection remain unclear, including why it appears mainly in the northwestern portion of the Burrowing Owl’s range despite the fact that both species have much broader geographic distributions. We were interested in the potential interplay among the migratory movements of Burrowing Owls, the potential for dispersal of P. irritans through its affiliation with owls, and Yersinia pestis—the zoonotic (animal-transmitted) bacteria infamous for causing bubonic plague.

Outbreaks of plague continue to occur sporadically throughout western North America, and it is typically transmitted among susceptible rodent hosts via flea bites. Birds are generally thought to not be vulnerable to plague, but some researchers have suggested that birds of prey could move infected rodents between sites, thus contributing to the disease’s spread. We wondered if birds such as Burrowing Owls could instead be directly aiding dispersal of fleas, which could happen over much longer distances, perhaps even from plague-infected areas in the owls’ wintering range to their breeding grounds. Although P. irritans is not necessarily the key player in plague outbreaks in western North America, it is a possible vector, so a better understanding of the extent to which birds of prey facilitate its dispersal is important.

To help clarify the geographic origins of the fleas on Burrowing Owls, and therefore the potential for long-distance flea dispersal facilitated by migratory owls, we collected feathers, portions of toenails, and fleas from adults and nestlings in two breeding populations of owls in Idaho and Oregon. We then analyzed stable isotopes of hydrogen to decipher whether the fleas on owls had isotopic signatures reflective of owl breeding or wintering grounds. These isotope ratios vary predictably across the latitudinal gradient, providing a geographic map to help understand where our samples originated.

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An adult Burrowing Owl ready for sampling. Personal photo, Belthoff lab.

Our analysis was based on three assumptions: (1) adult owl feathers would show the isotopic signatures of the owls’ breeding grounds, because of the timing of feather growth, and (2) nestling toenails would have local breeding-ground hydrogen isotope ratios, but (3) adult toenails would reflect the isotope ratios of the owls’ wintering grounds, as toenails grow continuously and adults just arriving on the breeding grounds would have toenails recently grown in wintering areas. We reasoned that if the fleas we collected had hydrogen isotope ratios most like those of adult owl toenails, then they must have started out on the owls’ wintering grounds and hitched long-distance rides.

Assessing the hydrogen isotope ratios in over 250 fleas, we found that they were markedly different from the ratios in adult toenail samples, but they frequently matched those of the feathers and toenails of nestlings. This implies a breeding ground origin rather than a wintering ground origin for the fleas infesting the Burrowing Owls. Fleas from adult owls in the Idaho population however had a slightly more southern hydrogen isotope signature, which could mean that the owls were moving fleas over short distances, such as between recent migration stopovers and breeding grounds. However, we found no evidence of long-distance dispersal of fleas between the owls’ wintering and breeding grounds.

This lack of pronounced continent-level movement of fleas suggests that even during outbreaks of plague among wildlife, the chance of long-distance dispersal of fleas carrying plague bacteria is low, despite that Burrowing Owls in portions of their breeding grounds might be regularly “bugged” by P. irritans.

During completion of this research, Kara Navock was an undergraduate researcher participating in Boise State University’s REU Site in Raptor Research, funded by the National Science Foundation (REU Site Award; DBI 1263167 to JB) and Boise State University. In addition to authoring this manuscript, Kara was awarded a William C. Andersen Award for best student poster for her presentation at the 2017 annual meeting of the Raptor Research Foundation. As of January 2019, she is continuing her studies at Boise State University at the graduate level. Research into the ecology of Burrowing Owls and their host-parasite relationship with P. irritans continues in the Belthoff lab at Boise State University and through the Global Owl Project.

Crystal Ruiz Earns Certified Association Executive Credential

Crystal RuizCrystal Ruiz, AOS Director of Operations and Administration, has earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation. The CAE is the highest professional credential in the association industry.

To be designated as a Certified Association Executive, an applicant must have a minimum of three years experience with nonprofit organization management, complete a minimum of 100 hours of specialized professional development, pass a stringent examination in association management, and pledge to uphold a code of ethics. To maintain the certification, individuals must undertake ongoing professional development and activities in association and nonprofit management. More than 4,300 association professionals currently hold the CAE credential. The CAE Program is accredited but he National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

Crystal was hired by AOS in February 2015. “We are absolutely thrilled for Crystal,” says AOS Executive Director Melinda Pruett-Jones. “The CAE certification signifies her commitment to provide the highest quality service in all dimensions of the society’s management. Crystal is a consummate professional whose training and advancement will permit her to contribute to AOS in broad, strategic ways in the years to come.”

ASAE is a membership organization for more than 44,000 association executives and industry partners representing 7,400 organizations. Its members lead, manage, and work in or partner with organizations in more than a dozen association management disciplines, from executive management to finance to technology. Together, they create a vibrant community that makes the world smarter, safer and better every day. With support for the ASAE Foundation, a separate nonprofit entity, ASAE is the premier source of learning, knowledge, and future-oriented research for the association and nonprofit profession and provides resources, education, ideas, and advocacy to enhance the power and performance of the association and nonprofit community. Visit ASAE at asaecenter.org.

NSF rescinds proposal submission limit for 2019

In October, the American Ornithological Society co-signed a letter opposing changes to National Science Foundation policy that would have limited the number of funding proposals that could be submitted to a given division annually by a PI or co-PI. We are pleased to learn that the NSF has listened to the concerns of the scientific community and rescinded the planned change. Full details can be found on the NSF BIO blog.