Influence of adult attractiveness on reproductive success
We will be examining if and how the coloration of both males and females interact to influence reproductive success, offspring quality, and sex ratio.
Identification of environmental factors affecting plumage color
We will be documenting environmental variables and looking for associations with plumage color development.
Informative Assessments: Effectively Gauging Student Understanding
As a postdoctoral research associate with Dr. Brian Couch, my research focus has shifted from evolutionary biology to biology education research. Nationally, undergraduate education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is in the midst of a revolution. Many national reports have called for institutions of higher education to adopt more student-centered instruction and research to better understand how students learn. In answer to these calls, my research focuses on the utility of different formative and summative assessment formats for identifying misconceptions and evaluating student thinking.
Environmental and Genetic Influence on Divergent Phenotypes
My dissertation research in Dr. Becca Safran's Lab focused on understanding the color variation seen within and between subspecies of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). Colorful traits in animals often function to attract or compete for mates. However, the information gained by receivers (potential mates and competitors) is often unknown. Mechanisms of sexual selection (mate choice via indirect vs. direct benefits) make different predictions about the type information provided by these traits and therefore whether trait expression is primarily influenced by genetic (indirect benefits) or environmental variation (direct benefits). The goal of my dissertation research was to assess the role of genetic and environmental variation on melanin-based coloration and how these influences vary in response to different selective pressures.
Female Coloration as a Sexual Signal for Male Mate Choice
While at William and Mary, I studied female coloration in eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) in Dr. John Swaddle's Lab. My thesis explored the role sexual selection via male mate choice in shaping variation in female coloration. To address this, I compared reproductive success of females to coloration of three plumage patches - breast, rump, and tail. I also performed mate choice trials in which I manipulated female plumage traits. While females with brighter rump plumage had higher reproductive success, males did not prefer brighter females in mate choice trials. Females will aggressively defend their territory from intruding females, suggesting the trait might be more important in female-female competition.
Sexual Selection in House Finches
As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, I was first exposed to avian field research and questions surrounding coloration and sexual selection in house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) while working in Dr. Alex Badyaev's Lab. A highlight of this work was biking around the University of Arizona campus with a trailer of bird seed to fill feeder stations.