Current Research Projects

HouseFinchImage copy1. Urban effects on bird life histories

In this project we apply a systematic approach to urban life-history and physiological adaptations, studying individual variation in life-history, physiological, and behavioral traits along the urbanization gradient in a model species of urbanization research, the house finch. The project uses a multidisciplinary approach that involves field study methods for analyzing survival, reproduction, and behavior, and lab methods for quantifying physiological state, oxidative stress, and immune status. (Tuul Sepp, Melinda Weaver, and Pierce Hutton)

Version 22. The evolution of hummingbird coloration and courtship displays

We are studying how multiple signals co-evolved with each other and the environment (i.e. the sensory drive hypothesis) in several species of hummingbirds in the bee-hummingbird tribe. We are specifically focusing on how hummingbird iridescent plumage and courtship displays are interacting with each other and the environment during use, and how these interactions vary across species. To accomplish this work, we are using a combination of field observations, full spectrum photography, and electron microscopy. (Rick Simpson)

Pinzón_mexicano,_House_Finch._Carpodacus_mexicanus_(9298656782)3. Carotenoid physiology in finches

We are studying mechanisms of carotenoid coloration and how they are regulated by individual condition and the environment in finches, especially house finches. We are specifically focusing on trade-offs between a sexually-selected signal (e.g. carotenoid-rich feathers) and individual maintenance (e.g. carotenoids as antioxidants). (Emily Webb and Pierce Hutton)

Chinese_Painted_Quail_RWD12b4. Urban environmental effects on development and physiology of color

We are using king quail as a lab model to understand how various anthropogenic disturbances during ontogeny affect adult carotenoid physiology and pigmentation. (Collaborative lab project)

gull picture5. Aging effects in a wild population of long-lived birds

The Kakrarahu gull colony in Estonia has been monitored since 1962 and the age, sex, and past reproductive success of each individual is recorded. This creates a unique opportunity to study aging in wild animals. We are studying physiological correlates and changes in reproductive performance related to aging in this population. (Tuul Sepp and Mathieu Giraudeau)


Past Research Projects

  • Evolution of aggressive color-change signals in South African dwarf chameleons (NSF-IOS-1401236). With former PhD student, Rusty Ligon.
  • Comparative study of light environment and wing coloration in South American butterflies (NSF-IOS-1501556). With former PhD student, Brett Seymoure, and SOLS emeritus professor, Dr. Ron Rutowski.
  • Control and function of retinal carotenoids in house finches (NSF-IOS-0910357). With former PhD student, Matt Toomey.
  • Urban effects on carotenoid pigmentation in house finches (NSF-IOS-0923694). With former PhD student, Matt Toomey, and post-doctoral associate, Mathieu Giraudeau.
  • Impacts of the Fukushima radioactive disaster on morphology and physiology of birds and frogs (ANR research grant, France). With post-doctoral associate, Mathieu Giraudeau, and SOLS professor, Dr. Pierre Deviche.
  • Developmental effects of carotenoids and immune challenge on adult coloration and health in mallard ducks (NSF-IOS-0746364). With former PhD student, Mike Butler, and former post-doctoral associate, Melissah Rowe.
  • Evolution of carotenoid allocation in introduced European passerines to New Zealand (Erskinne sabbatical fellowship from the University of Canterbury, N.Z., to K. McGraw).
  • Iridescent plumage coloration as a signal of aggression in Anna’s hummingbirds (NSF graduate research fellowship to former PhD student, Melissa Meadows).
  • Ornate coloration as a signal of quality in the jumping spider Habronattus pyrrithrix (NSF graduate research fellowship to former PhD student, Lisa Taylor).