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Heather Watts

Heather Watts

Field of Study: Behavioral ecology and endocrinology
Title: Associate Professor
Degrees: Ph.D., joint degree in Zoology and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, & Behavior
Homepage: Homepage/Lab Web Site Link
Google Scholar:  Google Scholar
Office: 113 Heald Hall
Phone: 509-335-5591
Fax: nan
Mailing Address: School of Biological Sciences
Washington State University
PO Box 644236
Pullman,WA 99164-4236


Research in my lab occurs at the interface of animal behavior, physiology, ecology and evolution. We seek to understand the mechanisms underlying life history patterns, particularly the timing of major life history events such as reproduction and migration, as well as the selective pressures shaping these patterns.

Appropriate timing of life history transitions such that life history stages (e.g., reproduction, migration) coincide with suitable environmental conditions is critical to the fitness of many organisms. The role of environmental cues in the timing of these life history transitions is currently a central focus of research in my lab. We are interested in both proximate questions (e.g., what are the endocrine mechanisms by which environmental cues influence physiology and behavior?) and ultimate questions (e.g., how do timing mechanisms vary across species, and how has this evolved?). Although photoperiod is the best studied environmental cue used in life history timing, animals may also use other cues including temperature, rainfall, food availability, and social cues. These less studied, non-photic cues are an area of focus in the lab; we are particularly interested in the role of social cues and how multiple environmental cues are integrated to time transitions.

Past work has used both mammalian and avian systems, but we now focus primarily on songbirds, as they are particularly well suited to address our research questions. Our approach is to use both field studies (observational and experimental) and laboratory studies.

Representative Publications:

  • Watts, H. E. 2020. Seasonal regulation of behaviour: What role do hormone receptors play? Proceedings B 287: 20200722.
  • Hotaling, S., Wimberger, P.H., Kelley, J. L. & Watts, H.E. 2020. Macroinvertebrates on glaciers: a key resource for terrestrial food webs? Ecology 101: e02947.
  • Watts, H. E., Rittenhouse, J. L., Sewall, K. B., Bowers, J. M. 2019. Migratory state is not associated with differences in neural glucocorticoid or mineralocorticoid receptor expression in pine siskins. Animal Migration 6: 19–27.
  • Rittenhouse J. L., Robart, A. R. & Watts, H. E. 2019. Variation in chronotype is associated with migratory timing in a songbird. Biology Letters 15: 20190453.
  • Robart, A. R., Morado, M. I., Watts, H. E. 2019. Declining food availability, corticosterone, and migratory response in a nomadic, irruptive migrant. Hormones and Behavior 110: 56-67.
  • Watts, H. E., Jimenez, D., Pacheco, V. & Vilgalys, T. P. 2019. Temperature-correlated shifts in the timing of egg laying in House Finches Haemorhous mexicanus. Ibis 161: 428–434. 
  • Watts, H. E., Jimenez, D., Pacheco, V. & Vilgalys, T. P. 2018. Effects of temperature on the timing of breeding and molt transitions in house finches. Journal of Experimental Biology, 221: jeb185058.
  • Robart, A.R., McGuire, M. & Watts, H.E. 2018. Increasing photoperiod stimulates the initiation of spring migratory behaviour and physiology in a facultative migrant, the pine siskin. Royal Society Open Sceince, 5: 180876.
  • Watts, H.E., Cornelius, J.M., Fudickar, A.M., Pérez, J. & Ramenofsky, M. 2018. Understanding variation in migratory movements: A mechanistic approach. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 256: 112-122.
  • Watts, H. E., Robart, A. R., Chopra, J. K., Asinas, C. E., Hahn, T. P. & Ramenofsky, M. R. 2017. Seasonal expression of migratory behavior in a facultative migrant, the pine siskin. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 71: 9.
  • Watts, H. E. Edley, B. & Hahn, T. P. 2016. A potential mate influences reproductive development in female, but not male, pine siskins. Hormones and Behavior. 80: 39-46.
  • Watts, H. E., MacDougall-Shackleton, S. A., & Hahn, T. P. 2015. Variation among individuals in photoperiod responses: Effects of breeding schedule, photoperiod, and age-related photoperiodic experience in birds. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology. 323: 368-374.
  • MacDougall-Shackleton, S. A., Watts, H. E. & Hahn, T. P. 2015. Biological Timekeeping: Individual Variation, Performance, and Fitness. In: Integrative Organismal Biology (L. B. Martin, C. Ghalambor & H. A. Woods, Eds.). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Cornelius, J.M., Watts, H.E., Dingle, H. & Hahn, T.P. 2013. Obligate versus rich patch opportunism: Evolution and endocrine mechanisms. General and Comparative Endocrinology 190: 76-80.
  • Watts, H.E., & Hahn, T.P. 2012. Non-photoperiodic regulation of reproductive physiology in the flexibly breeding pine siskin (Spinus pinus). General and Comparative Endocrinology 178: 259-264.