Research Overview

I have recently begun a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship to address questions about the effects of urbanization and noise on the song and breeding behavior of the Gray Catbird at the Smithsonian Institution Migratory Bird Center. See my blog about this research here.

My research interests lie broadly in evolution, ecology, and animal behavior. Specifically, I aim to understand how communication signals function in interactions within species, whether in male-male competition or in female choice, or between species concerning the broader communication network. Another major theme of my research involves how anthropogenic noise (“noise pollution”) and urbanization impact communication systems.

As a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at William and Mary, I both developed my teaching skills and conducted research on how bird communities respond to broadband noise. In field and lab tests, my collaborators and I examined how “sonic net” technology may be used to deter birds from socio-economically important areas such as farms, airports, and wind turbines. [See recent press about our paper in The Economist, The Huffington Post, and The Daily Mail.]

In my dissertation, I focused on vocal performance in the swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgiana), a species in which females have been shown to prefer songs with high vocal performance, i.e. with comparatively fast trill rates and broad frequency bandwidths. Males are limited by physiological and other factors in the vocal performance they can achieve. Thus, sexual selection by females is hypothesized to push these vocal features to individual performance limits. But how do females come by these preferences? My dissertation research sought to address this question alongside questions of signal development and function in the wild.