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Seabird Ecological Assessment Network


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Julie Ellis

Dr. Julie Ellis

SEANET Director

Julie Ellis, PhD, has been SEANET Director since 2006. She is a Research Assistant Professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Julie received her BS and MS degrees at University of Kansas, and her PhD at Brown University's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology where she studied coastal ecology with a focus on seabirds as marine ecosystem engineers—that is how seabirds affect food webs and other aspects of the environment in rocky intertidal habitats in coastal Maine. Julie's current research interests include:

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.
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. Julie's previous research demonstrates that these birds have significant impacts on marine food webs and island ecosystem dynamics. She is 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.
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 (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.

Sarah Courchesne

Dr. Sarah Courchesne

SEANET Project Coordinator

Sarah Courchesne, DVM, is SEANET's Project Coordinator. 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 Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Sarah is particularly interested in causes of mortality in seabirds. Her current foci are:

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 to work on determining what impact these foreign materials have on populations of Atlantic seabirds.
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.