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 a local population of 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. Recent collaborators include Dr. Scott Sakaluk, Dr. Pirmin Nietlisbach, Dr. Rachel Bowden, Dr. Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer, Dr. Nathan Mortimer, Dr. E. Keith Bowers, and Dr. Mark Hausman. Many of our descriptive and experimental studies have focused on a range of 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 been investigating questions in ecoimmunology, the underlying hormonal controls of the expression of fitness-related traits in nestlings and adults, maternal effects on offspring fitness mediated by maternal hormonal allocation, rejection of foreign eggs, and the significance of variation in eggshell pigmentation.