Dunlin with plastic exposure on the tundra (photo credit: Maria Gavrilo) “There is very little information about the impacts of plastics on shorebirds” 28 May 2020Plastics in the ArcticBiodiversityPollutantsConservation of Arctic Flora and FaunaInternational Arctic Science Committee (IASC) Interview with Dr Scott Flemming, 2020-2021 CAFF-IASC Fellow with the Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative Dr Scott Flemming has been selected for the 2020-2021 joint fellowship offered by the Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF) and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC). During his one-year fellowship, Dr Flemming aims at increasing our knowledge of how shorebirds breeding in the Arctic are impacted by plastic contamination. His work will fulfill an important need of CAFF’s Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI) and contribute to implementing AMBI’s 2019-2023 work plan. Dr Scott Flemming Could you briefly tell us about your background and research interests? I did my undergraduate studies in animal biology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. After that I spent some time working in various technician positions related to a number of different bird species– my interest has always been with birds, ever since I was a kid. Eventually, I went on and did a masters in zoology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I studied the diet of Little Penguins. After my masters, I wanted to come back to Canada and transitioned to work with shorebirds in the Arctic. I started a PhD at Trent University in Peterborough, looking at the effects of overabundant snow goose populations on Arctic breeding shorebirds – which also has been a priority within the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group’s Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative, AMBI. Currently, I am working for Environment and Climate Change Canada as the shorebird biologist for the Pacific Region in British Columbia. So, now I am more interested in what informs shorebirds migration strategies: how shorebirds choose stopover sites and how flexible they are with their migration strategies. The threat of plastics to shorebirds ties into this work – and perfectly combines my daily work and the fellowship. During your fellowship you will focus on the prevalence and impacts of plastic contamination on Arctic-breeding shorebird populations. What sparked your interest in this topic? I have always had an interest in the diet of birds, and plastic contamination in seabirds has been at the forefront of many diet contamination analyses recently. Many shorebirds also use the marine environment but there is very little information about the prevalence of plastics in shorebirds and the effects that might have. One of the best studies, a more recent one, comes from my colleagues here in British Columbia. They opportunistically collected Red Phalarope carcasses and identified plastics in their stomachs – which is one of the main reasons for the deaths of these individuals that wash up on shore. Phalaropes feed more at sea during the non-breeding season and so they might have a bigger exposure. However, there is a big knowledge gap regarding exposure and effects on species that use intertidal habitats.