Dying frigatebird image wins first prize in ecology photo competition

Tragic image of a frigatebird chick dying of a viral infection in French Guiana is awarded first prize in international ecology photo competition

  • The BMC Ecology journal runs a competition annually to showcase images of biodiversity and natural beauty
  • The ‘timely picture’ of a magnificent frigatebird chick taken in French Guiana was the overall winning entry
  • The bird captured for the winning entry is suffering from a deadly virus that it is unlikely to recover from

An ailing frigate bird chick, idle meerkats and a female Gelada monkey are among the animals pictured in the seventh BMC Ecology Image competition. 

The eclectic array of images showcase the ‘beauty and diversity of life on our planet’ as well as its intricate relationships, according to the team behind the competition.  

The overall winner was a timely picture of a magnificent frigatebird chick – taken in French Guiana –  that was suffering from a virus it is unlikely to recover from.  

The main runner up was a colourful picture of a forest green lizard that measures up to 25 inches from its head to tail is found in the hills of India and Sri Lanka. 

The competition was created to give ecologists the chance to share their research and photography skills, and to celebrate the intersection of art and science.

Overall winner: This ailing frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) is seen with clear signs of a viral disease that gives low chances of recovery

The forest green lizard (Calotes calotes) is large among the lizard species measuring up to 25 inches  from its head to tail. This lizard, as its name suggests, has a bright green dorsal color with 5–6 cream or deep green transverse stripes

BMC Ecology is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on environmental, behavioural and population ecology as well as biodiversity.

The winning images are selected by the Editor of BMC Ecology and senior members of the journal’s editorial board – this is the seventh year the competition has run.

Alison Cuff, BMC Ecology editor, said the variety and quality of the images submitted for the competition were impressive and difficult to choose between.

‘Our section editors used their expertise and knowledge to ensure that our winning images were picked as much for the scientific story behind them as for the technical quality and beauty of the images themselves,’ she said.

This image was the winner in the Behavioral and physiological ecology category and shows weevils infected by the ‘zombie fungus’ Cordyceps

Section editors Luke Jacobus and Josef Settele both recommended the winning entry of the ailing frigate bird chick suffering from a likely incurable virus. 

‘David Constantini’s powerful image illustrates that there are other species profoundly affected by viruses and these processes are part of nature and our environment,’ they said.

Adding that it is ‘something that seems particularly important at the time of the current pandemic.’ 

Photographer David Costantini from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France, said: ‘I took the photograph in French Guiana, where viral outbreaks annually affect a population of frigatebirds.

‘An ongoing research project is trying to figure out the causes and consequences of this disease and to find solutions for the conservation of the local frigatebird population.’ 

In addition to the winning image and overall runner up, there are winners from four categories: Behavioral and Physiological Ecology Community, Population and Macroecology; Conservation Ecology and Biodiversity Research; Landscape Ecology and Ecosystems; and the Editor’s Pick. 

Winner of the Behavioural and Physiological Ecology Community category was Damien Esquerré’s weevils infected by the ‘zombie fungus’ Cordyceps.

The fungus infects the weevil and takes over, directing it to a more humid place where it can reproduce, eating out the weevil from the inside.

Section editor Dominique Mazzi said: ‘It perfectly captures the helplessness of the weevil affected by the fungus, which before killing its host takes over its behaviour, likely in order to enhance the fungus’ transmission.’

The Editor’s Pick was taken by Nayden Chakarov from Bielefeld University, Germany and shows a large sea duck called the king eider having a splash in the water.

This image of a ghost crab hiding in a human footprint on a beach in China won the community, population and macroecology category – they are found on the beaches of tropical and subtropical regions

A beautiful demonstration of the ‘crown shyness’ effect amongst different species of tree won the conservation ecology and biodiversity research category

A wind farm in China’s Gobi Desert won the landscape ecology and ecosystems category – wind farms at Guazhou in the Gansu province generate up to 20 GW of power

King eiders breed only in the highest Arctic territories and the image shows the vibrancy of the bird against an almost monochrome background. 

The winning images and an additional seven highly commended images highlight pressing issues in ecology, from the challenges many species face in today’s environments, to mutually beneficial or parasitic relationships between species, curious phenomena found in nature and the potential of sustainable technologies.  

The Landscape Ecology and Ecosystems category winner was captured by Kang Xu from Zhejiang University, China and shows a wind farm in the Gobi Desert. 

Kang Xu said: ‘Our previous research demonstrated that constructing wind turbines in the Gobi Desert may be a win-win strategy that contributes to the growth of desert vegetation with a favourable microclimate and sufficiently utilizes wind power to produce clean energy. 

A King eidar duck bathing in some shallow water in an image named the Kings Bath won the editors pick

This image of a Gelada monkey in Guassa, Ethiopia was rated highly commended and was captured as the old world primate was attempting to swat away a fly

Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) spend a large amount of their active time foraging. This female meerkat was radio-tracked by scientists for hours under the sunlight of Kalahari and the image was ranked highly commended

‘During our field study, we took this photograph of the largest wind farm-desert coupled ecosystem.’   

One of the highly commended images was a picture of a female Gelada monkey only found in the Ethiopian Highlands – taken by Bing Lin as the monkey was pushing a fly away. 

Bing said: ‘An adolescent female gelada monkey bites and claws at a bothersome fly in mid-flight.

‘This photo shows a fly bothering this adolescent female, and I took this shot right as she became fed up with the fly buzzing in her ear, a moment I could empathise with well.’

Bing, from Princeton University, USA, added: ‘They are the last remaining species of their genus still alive today.

‘As such, they are a critical study species to consider in attempting to unravel the manysecrets of primate evolution.’

Details of the competition entries can be found on the BMC Ecology website. 


Nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, experts say.

That’s the key finding of the United Nations’ (UN) first comprehensive report on biodiversity – the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat.

The report – published on May 6, 2019 – says species are being lost at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past. 

Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said.

The report’s 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:

– Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth’s land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85% of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said.

– Overfishing the world’s oceans. A third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.

– Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world’s land mammals – not including bats – and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.

– Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world’s waters.

– Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70 per cent since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species.

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