Research Overview

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 female choice.  In my dissertation, I focused on 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 research takes place in the field and in the lab, and I address the following questions:

  1.  Does vocal performance indicate the level of threat to receivers?
  2. What factors influence the development of female preferences – song learning,
    mate-choice copying, or a bias for high performance?
  3. How does developmental stress affect adult male vocal performance?
  4. Do males with high vocal performance also possess striking feather colors or do these features tradeoff?