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Research

Our research program focuses on the evolutionary, physiological, and behavioral ecology of birds. The model system that current members of the Avian Ecology Laboratory and AEL alumni have used since 1980 is the house wren (Troglodytes aedon), a migratory, cavity-nesting songbird. Because house wrens cannot excavate their own nest cavities, they readily use the 820 nestboxes that we provide on a forested study area 20 km north of the university. Collaborators include Dr. Scott Sakaluk, Dr. Rachel BowdenDr. Alysia Vrailas-MortimerDr. Nathan MortimerDr. Laura Vogel, and Dr. E. Keith Bowers.

Many of our descriptive and experimental studies have focused on three major topics:

  • The first is what selective forces shape reproductive effort, including how reproductive costs shape life history trade-offs, how differences in the degree of hatching synchrony influence reproductive success and female allocation of hormones and the sex of their offspring among the eggs of their clutch, and how trade-offs between nestbox temperature, self-maintenance, and embryo development influence female incubation behavior and reproductive success..
  • A second research emphasis is on sexual selection. We are investigating the basis of mate-choice decisions by female house wrens, focusing on why females engage in extra-pair matings, how mate attractiveness influences female reproductive effort, and how male song is shaped by sexual selection.
  • In recent years, we have begun investigating questions in ecoimmunology, the underlying hormonal controls of the expression of fitness-related traits in nestlings and adults, and maternal effects on offspring fitness mediated by maternal hormonal allocation.
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