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.