I am post-doctoral researcher in the Conservation Ecology Group at the University of Groningen (RUG). Inspired by the epic migratory journeys of many shorebirds, my research initially focused on how individuals manage to fit these migrations into their busy annual routines. More recently, my work has expanded to explore the impacts of extreme long-distance migration on the demography and evolution of populations. Since 2001, these pursuits have involved fieldwork all over the globe, including northern California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, New Zealand, China, South Korea, Australia, Greenland, and The Netherlands, proving that shorebirds rank among the world’s best travel agents.

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With a male Bar-tailed Godwit near Nome, Alaska. Photo: Murray Potter

Currently, my primary research (funded by an NWO Open Programme Grant) explores the global population structure and evolutionary history of three of Team Piersma’s main focal species: Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, and Red Knot. Using genome-wide molecular markers and a combination of population genetic and phylogeographic methods, this work aims to: (1) challenge our current perceptions and test new hypotheses regarding subspecies distinctions within each species, (2) discover which geographic and ecological factors (if any) represent barriers to gene flow, and (3) reconstruct the evolutionary history of present-day migratory flyways.

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Breeding and non-breeding ranges of currently recognized subspecies of Bar-tailed Godwit. The arrows indicate migratory paths between specific non-breeding sites (circles) and breeding areas (ellipses) demonstrated by satellite-tracked individuals since 2006. Graphic: Jesse Conklin

Before moving to The Netherlands in 2012, I spent five years in New Zealand, studying the baueri subspecies of Bar-tailed Godwits with Phil Battley (another alumnus of Team Piersma) at Massey University. This work, which constituted my PhD  and continues today as a serious long-term ‘hobby’, uses an intimately monitored population of marked individuals, combined with geolocator tracking, to understand the flexibility and annual-cycle consequences of this population’s extreme migratory routine (including three non-stop flights of 6,000–12,000 km each, connecting locations in Alaska, Australasia, and the Yellow Sea).

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Bar-tailed Godwits (including two color-banded males, on left) departing New Zealand on migration, but note the young male (still in wing molt, lower right) who doesn’t seem to realize what he has signed up for! Photo: Jesse Conklin

Before defecting to the East Asian–Australasian Flyway in 2007, I studied breeding and migratory ecology of shorebirds using the Pacific American Flyway, as a master’s student in the lab of Mark Colwell at Humboldt University, California, and a seasonal employee of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey.

In (nearly all of) my ‘spare’ time, I am co-Editor-in-Chief and graphic designer for Wader Study, the scientific journal of the International Wader Study Group.

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You can view my publications at my profiles on ResearchGate, Google Scholar, and the University of Groningen.

I am particularly proud of a recent review of extreme migration in shorebirds, including discussions of its potential relationship with individual quality and our habit of underestimating  the maximum capabilities of migratory birds (published in the special issue of Journal of Avian Biology commemorating the career of Thomas Alerstam).