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, female choice, or between species concerning the broader communication network.

As as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, I am currently conducting research on how bird communities respond to broadband noise. In field and lab tests, we are examining how our “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 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?