Research Takes Flight:
UNCW biology student wins NC Coastal Reserve fellowship


Over the years, climate change has affected much of the natural world. Scientists have studied related phenomena such as disappearing coral Robert Snowden.jpgreefs and melting ice caps to understand how climate change is disrupting the patterns of nature. UNCW biology student Robert Snowden ’18M will make his contribution to this body of work by researching the historically understudied effects of changing environmental temperatures on seabird species. 

For his research proposal on the incubation habits of nesting Least Terns, Snowden has been awarded the North Carolina Coastal Reserve fellowship from the North Carolina Sea Grant. Snowden will study how climate change and human disturbance alter the incubation behavior of these terns, seabirds native to local beaches. He will monitor how the birds adjust their incubation behavior in response to changes in ambient temperature, and how that in turn affects the temperature of the eggs themselves. Snowden wants to discover if there is a threshold where these birds can no longer maintain suitable egg temperatures. 

Snowden wrote his proposal under the mentorship of Raymond Danner, assistant professor of biology and marine biology. During the proposal-writing process, Danner provided a critical editorial eye, helped Snowden execute an extensive literature review and discussed potential methodologies for the future research. 

“Robert’s research is particularly exciting because it focuses on the mechanisms at the core of this phenomenon,” said Danner. “Robert did an excellent job developing this project and describing it clearly to Sea Grant. His well-rounded education in biology and strong critical thinking and writing skills are paying off in his early successes in graduate school.”  

“Working with Dr. Danner has been the most valuable aspect of my experience at UNCW so far,” Snowden said. “He is very passionate about not only researching, but mentoring early-career biologists like myself. He does not hesitate to share his enthusiasm for my progress as a student and a scientist.”

Sea Grant, a resource for scientists, educators, local officials, government agencies and coastal businesses, has been providing research, education and outreach opportunities related to the NC coast and coastal communities since 1970. The organization funds projects ranging from fisheries and seafood science to water quality and coastal hazards. NC Sea Grant is an inter-institutional program within the University of North Carolina system.

Snowden will conduct his research during the Least Tern breeding season between April and July on Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro Island. He hopes results of the study will inform and strengthen conservation efforts in the area.

-- Caitlin Taylor ’18M