Case study – Genomics and Natural History of the Hebridean Rock Dove

Photo published with permission of Will Smith, University of Oxford

Will Smith, University of Oxford, Public Engagement Grant 2023

“I have had a very successful trip to Uist in the Outer Hebrides, focussed on public engagement regarding my genetic studies of Rock Doves. The main goals of the visit were:

  1. To report on my genomic analyses of hybridisation. I aimed to inform the local community about the results of work carried out during my PhD (including some which had been funded by a Genetics Society Heredity Research Grant). It is very important to me that carrying out much of my scientific work on their islands, they get to hear about all the exciting results!
  2. To engage with various landowners and community stakeholders in order to expand my ongoing study of the Rock Doves. For example, I hoped to secure additional permissions to carry out my research in new regions on the islands.
  3. To highlight our ongoing field/natural history-based work on the islands, which complements the genetic studies, and which will be enhanced by the involvement of locals. For example, we have started colour-ringing the doves with field-readable leg rings. If we join forces with local people and resight ringed birds, it will be possible to generate lots of data on the birds’ movements. Such data will be very helpful in terms of analyses of movement ecology and population genomic structure.

My visit was very enjoyable and I am confident that it has also been worthwhile, both in terms of benefitting my research, and in terms of giving something back to the local community who have been so understanding and helpful to me during my PhD fieldwork on the islands.

I had a very successful talk, which was attended by members of the RSPB, the local natural history society, and other members of the public. I outlined both the DNA results from previous work, and future plans for my studies on the islands. The talk was well-attended and I received many useful and interesting questions at the end.

As well as this, I had the opportunity to discuss my project with many other Uist residents in a one-on-one context. Conversations with landowners and local birdwatchers were particularly fruitful. I have secured permission to work at five additional sites in future years, giving me 15 in total. This will enable me to expand my study population of wild doves, which will undoubtedly make it a more useful system to work with from a scientific perspective.

Perhaps most excitingly, I had the opportunity to talk to many different people about our ongoing work and how to get involved. Despite only being back in Oxford for a couple of days, I have already had reports of colour-ringed Rock DovesinUist, contributing to our studies of Rock Dove survival and dispersal.

I would like to thank the Genetics Society for this amazing opportunity. It has not only allowed me to discuss genetics and fieldwork with members of the public, increasing awareness of how useful DNA studies can be, but has also allowed me to enhance the quality of my long-term work on the islands. The conversations and discussions I have been able to have will benefit my work long into the future, which will both assist me as an early career researcher and maximise the scientific output from my studies of Uist’s Rock Doves.”