The Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) is a citizen science program that brings together interdisciplinary researchers and citizen scientists in a long-term collaborative effort to identify and mitigate threats to marine birds.
SEANET volunteers conduct beached bird surveys in order to identify and record information about bird mortality along the east coast of the United States. Data collected by hundreds of SEANET volunteers are used to examine the spatial pattern of bird carcass deposition and how it varies across time.
These surveys provide baseline information about bird mortality and help to detect mass mortality events such as oil spills, algal toxins, and disease outbreaks. Marine birds can serve as indicators of ecosystem and human health; monitoring the threats they face and their mortality patterns can teach us about the health of the marine environment.
SEANET was initiated by the Tufts Center for Conservation Medicine, in collaboration with the Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies in Massachusetts, during Autumn 2002. Since this time, the project has expanded to beaches throughout New England, New York and New Jersey and more recently, to the southeastern US, with beaches in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Julie Ellis, PhD, is SEANET’s Executive Director. She joined the organization in 2006. She is a Research Assistant Professor at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
Julie received her BS & MS at University of Kansas, and her PhD at Brown University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
During her PhD, Julie studied coastal ecology with a focus on seabirds as marine ecosystem engineers
(ie how seabirds affect food webs and other aspects of the environment in rocky intertidal habitats in coastal Maine)
Julie’s current research interests include:
(1) Emerging infectious pathogens and antibiotic resistance in marine animals. There is growing worldwide concern about pathogens originating from pollution of coastal marine habitats by feces from humans and domesticated animals. Marine invertebrates and vertebrates are likely an important reservoir for these terrestrially-derived pathogens.
(2) Population trends, ecology, and behavior of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls in New England. Populations of these two species have fluctuated dramatically during the past several decades; largely as a result of human activities. My previous research demonstrates that these birds have significant impacts on marine food webs and island ecosystem dynamics. I am conducting studies in order to better understand the population dynamics over time, foraging habits, interspecific interactions, nest site fidelity, overwinter dispersal, health, and the potential role of gulls as reservoirs of pathogens.
(3) The influence of marine birds on island ecosystems. Seabird islands (islands with large populations of seabirds) are crucial to the survival of many native animals and plants due to the large subsidies provided by nutrient inputs of marine origin. Introduced mammalian predators (e.g. rats and cats) have devastated seabird populations and drastically altered vegetation processes and ecosystem function all over the world. Currently, Julie is working with an international group of scientists to design cross-ecosystem studies that compare the effects of seabirds on islands at a variety of sites around the world.
Given all this, it’s incomprehensible that Julie maintains time for hobbies, but when she is not engaged in research, she enjoys biking, hiking, gardening, and reading.
Sarah Courchesne, DVM is SEANET’s Project Director.
She received her BA in English from UMass-Amherst, and then abruptly changed course to pursue her interest in avian species.
A veterinarian with a degree from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Sarah is particularly interested in causes of mortality in seabirds. Her current foci are:
1.)The role of plastics in marine ecosystems, particularly their impact on high trophic level organisms like seabirds. Both the plastics themselves, when ingested, and contaminants absorbed by those plastics can have unpredictable health effects on animals. Sarah would like work on determining what impact these foreign materials have on populations of Atlantic seabirds.
2.) Emerging infectious diseases in seabirds and marine ecosystems generally. With global climate change, shifts in the distribution of diseases can occur, entirely new diseases can appear, and diseases can infect new hosts. The significance of these changes on populations of seabirds is not currently understood and requires systematic surveillance and diagnosis of native wildlife.
Sarah also revels in avian autopsies, and teaching avian anatomy at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Finally, Sarah here reveals her secret identity as the SEANET blogger.
SEANET also recruits Local Volunteer Coordinators in many states in the network. Because SEANET encompasses such a large geographic area, it is necessary for Tufts staff to collaborate with local agencies and individuals with knowledge of regional conditions and needs and access to the resources to recruit and train new volunteers. These local coordinators are supported by the central SEANET staff located at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
SEANET receives no standing financial support from Tufts University, or from any state or federal government. We are funded solely through private and government grants and private donations. To see a listing of our sponsors and partners, or to contribute to SEANET, please visit our Donate page.