We just got back to Moscow after spending six days at the “Crane Homeland Field Station” three hours north of the capital. It actually turns out to be six hours north of the capital if you leave at 3pm on Friday, as we found out. Our experience so far has overall been incredibly positive! We are returning with banding data and samples for 31 barn swallows and song recordings from 12 different males, which just exceeds our target sample sizes of 30 and 10. If we get these kinds of numbers at the rest of our sites, this will be more than sufficient to characterize the variation we see in tail feather (streamer) length, color, and song across populations, which vary as a result of differences in female preferences for these traits. We will also be using some cutting-edge genomic techniques to figure out which parts of the barn swallow genome are correlated with this variation.
View before takeoff in New York
After meeting Liz at JFK Airport in New York, we both hopped on a direct overnight flight to Moscow. I watched four in flight movies, opting to stay up until nighttime in Moscow--in hopes it would ease the 10 hour jump ahead in time. (Maybe? this is working...I just feel like I need coffee every hour or so, but unfortunately a cup of espresso goes for 3.19 USD here!) Anywho, we decided to grab a cab from the airport, rather than navigate the leviathan maze that is the Moscow underground with our ~150 lbs of gear. This turned out to mean a 45 minute ride with a smelly cabbie who seemed to have learned his driving skills playing the game Crazy Taxi. (This guy literally turned down an exit ramp, then cut back over the grass to jump 2 cars ahead in the gridlocked highway from the airport! He probably cut off 200 cars and a pedestrian during our harrowing ride, with Liz slumped over her suitcase, trying not to puke airplane burrito all over the back seat.)
Why we're going to Siberia
This summer is our first field expedition on the new barn swallow grant, and Matt and I will be traveling across Russia studying three different subspecies- H. r. rustica, H. r. tytleri, and H. r. gutturalis. One of the big goals of this project is understanding why the subspecies look different (check out the About page for more info). Traits such as plumage, song, and morphology are used in mate choice decisions, and population-level variation in these traits can therefore initiate the speciation process by generating reproductive barriers. It's particularly important to study these traits in contact areas between different subspecies, because this is where barriers between differentiated groups are most likely to break down. When we visit these "contact zones," we can see if there's any evidence for hybridization (i.e., weak reproductive barriers), or if neighboring populations are very differentiated (i.e., strong reproductive isolation). These different patterns provide clues to the processes causing subspecies to diverge from each other.