Eyes on Eiders Header

All research starts with one or more questions. Dr. Tuula Hollmen and her team are tackling a broad question: What do Steller’s eiders need to breed successfully? The team isn't going to find the answer just by looking in a textbook. Steller’s eiders are unique. Little is known about their needs and they don’t follow the same breeding behaviors of other well-studied waterfowl like domestic ducks. So, why is Dr. Hollmen interested in this particular question when it comes to eiders?


Dr. Tuula Hollmen discusses the factors that led to her research questions and how she plans to investigate those questions. (1:46)

Video Transcript

Dr. Hollmen has to think about how to convert the complex, wild system that the eiders come from into a virtual habitat at the Alaska SeaLife Center so that her team can learn from the captive reservoir population. With little existing research, a small wild population in Barrow, sporadic nesting on the Y-K Delta, and hundreds of variables, how will the scientists figure out what a pair of Steller’s eider needs to breed successfully? Here’s the benefit of science: they can try out different materials and techniques (experimentation!) and use careful observation to figure out a strategy that works for the captive eiders.

The research question cannot be answered in one year. Every breeding season tests if the scientists’ current arrangement helps the birds breed successfully. Scientific inquiry is a process, and the eider team knows it well as they continue to learn, question, and adapt. It's what they've been doing for over a decade! 





  ADAPT (n) - to change behaviors or physical traits to survive in a specific environment.
  BROOD (n) - the offspring of an animal, especially of a bird.
  BROOD (v) - to sit on eggs to hatch them.
  EXPERIMENT (v) - to do a scientific test in which you perform a series of actions and carefully observe their effects.
  INQUIRY (n) - an act of asking or searching for information.
  THRESHOLD (n) - a level, point, or value above which something is true or will take place.
  VARIABLE (n) - an element, feature, or factor that can vary or change.
  VIRTUAL (adj) - very close to being something without actually being it.