Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies
OCEES GRADUATE RESEARCH FELLOW
Ph.D. Advisor: Don Miles
What is the role of behavioral plasticity in avian responses to habitat alteration?
Heterogeneous environments may facilitate the evolution and maintenance of behavioral plasticity because alternative behaviors may have different fitness consequences under different conditions. However, because of constraints, including time and energy budgets, a change in behavior is expected to involve trade-offs with other correlated behaviors. These correlated suites of behaviors may enhance or inhibit an individualís ability to adapt to different situations. I plan to determine the magnitude of behavioral plasticity (strength and directions of correlations) among four focal species [Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina), Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum), Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus), and Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)] in a southern Ohio hardwood forest among three treatments (an unmanaged control, a thinned, and a burned). Changes in forest structure are expected to affect the distribution and density of forest birds because the environmental circumstances (e.g., prey abundance and distribution, nesting sites, predation risk) in these habitats are altered which in turn affects the opportunities available and the fitness associated with exploitation behaviors within the habitat. Birds will be captured using mist nets and individually marked using colored leg bands. Age, sex, and morphometric data will be collected from each individual. Behavioral observations will be conducted and several components of behavior including foraging, territory defense, mate attraction, parental care, and antipredator behaviors, as well as, various measures of the spatial distribution of vegetation will be quantified. Territories of the four focal species as well as seven other species (selected based on abundance during previous work and possible interactions with the focal species) will be mapped to compare conspecific and heterospecific territory density and overlap. Nests of focal species will be located and monitored to estimate reproductive success. Past studies have examined behaviors independently of other traits; however, behaviors involve trade-offs with other behaviors and these trade-offs ultimately contribute to fitness. This study will examine behavioral plasticity across contexts (e.g., foraging, territory defense, mating, parental care, and anti-predator behaviors) and situations (four different environmental conditions) to determine if and how the observed plasticity is correlated to reproductive success, survival, habitat structure, intraspecific and interspecific competition.
Department of Biological Sciences