People: Current Lab Members

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Mike Webster (lab jefe)

Mike has studied sexual selection and the mating behavior of wild birds in North America, the New World tropics, and Australia. He is particularly fascinated by “cryptic” reproductive behaviors such as extra-pair copulations and brood parasitism, and also by the evolutionary causes and consequences of elaborate sexual signals. One key area of research focuses on the evolution of plumage and song signals, and in particular the factors underlying variation in signals within and across populations. A second major focus is the effects of ecological factors on reproductive strategies, including the “carry over” effects of conditions during the non-breeding season, and how breeding behavior might be affected by climate change. These projects are conducted on Australian fairy-wrens and North American warblers, though some of Mike’s students also work on other systems (below). As Director of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Mike is also dedicated to outreach that helps others experience and appreciate animal behavior and the evolutionary processes that have shaped our natural world.

You can contact Mike.

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Anastasia Dalziell (Postdoc)

Ana uses avian model systems to investigate key issues in behavioral and sensory ecology: how animals communicate with each other, and why communication signals have evolved into certain designs. Being especially curious about signals and cues involving sound, she has developed interests in vocal mimicry, the dawn chorus, and song dialects (among others). Her current research focus is the functional significance of complex signals – signals made up of multiple components expressed in one or more sensory modalities. At the Lab of Ornithology, Ana is investigating the function and evolution of integrated song and ‘dance’ displays in birds, using the superb lyrebird as a model species.

 

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Jay Falk (PhD student)

Jay is fascinated by all things social and sexual selection, but is focusing on the function and evolution of color polymorphisms in female hummingbirds for his dissertation. Before coming to Cornell, Jay went to the University of Texas in Austin as an undergrad where he worked on reproductive isolation in flour beetles, and the influence of bat communities on the mating calls of katydids

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Gavin Leighton (Postdoc)

Gavin is an NSF-postdoctoral fellow. He obtained his PhD at the University of Miami where he studied the maintenance of cooperative nest construction in sociable weavers. He has a background in animal behavior, population genetics, individual-based modeling, and sexual selection, and will be using comparative methods along with the Macaulay Library to understand how sociality influences avian vocal complexity. Learn more about Gavin and his research at his website.

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Rusty Ligon (Postdoc)

Rusty is interested in the myriad ways that animals communicate with another. Primarily, he is interested in the visual signals that animals use to mediate social interactions and he studies these signals at multiple levels of analysis. At Cornell, Rusty is investigating the evolutionary interplay between complex ornamentation (e.g. color, morphology) and elaborate display behavior in the birds of paradise. More about Rusty's research at his website.

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Janelle Morano (Research Coordinator)


As the Research Coordinator, Janelle is responsible for engaging undergraduate students with faculty, graduate students, and staff in a variety of research projects at the Macaulay Library. Additionally, she conducts research on the acoustics and acoustic behavior of animals, including birds, fish, and whales. She is interested in what sounds animals make and why do they make them, then applying this knowledge to understand how inter-species communication works, how communication evolves, and how to acoustically monitor a population for conservation purposes. Currently, she is investigating the inter-specific communication networks of alarm calls in songbirds. She used to scuba dive on coral reefs for her research, but now enjoys sitting outside in the cold, snowy winters to document bird alarm calls.​

 

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Marcelo Araya Salas (Postdoc)

Derrick earned his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. His undergraduate research in Katie Sieving's lab focused on territorial interactions and habitat use of the eastern painted bunting in coastal areas of northeastern Florida. After working on projects studying avian life history evolution in the southwestern US and Peru, Derrick is now pursuing a Ph.D. in the Webster lab. His interests relate broadly to sociality and the evolution of social signals in birds. Currently, Derrick is investigating the role of social selection on the evolution of female plumage ornaments and reproductive strategies in the variegated fairy-wren.

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Derrick Thrasher (PhD Candidate)

Derrick earned his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. His undergraduate research in Katie Sieving's lab focused on territorial interactions and habitat use of the eastern painted bunting in coastal areas of northeastern Florida. After working on projects studying avian life history evolution in the southwestern US and Peru, Derrick is now pursuing a Ph.D. in the Webster lab. His interests relate broadly to sociality and the evolution of social signals in birds. Currently, Derrick is investigating the role of social selection on the evolution of female plumage ornaments and reproductive strategies in the variegated fairy-wren.

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Rebekah Villalta (graduate student)

Bekah’s bachelor's degree is in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution from the University of California, San Diego, and she also has three associate degrees in biology, chemistry, and mathematics from College of the Sequoias. Her research experiences have included cellular and molecular biology at the University of Washington and UC San Diego, environmental toxicology of heavy metals in seafood through Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and conservation of Hawaiian tree snails and phylogenetics of Jackson's chameleons at University of Hawai'i. She was also a field technician at Hubbard Brook working with black-throated blue warblers. Bekah’s PhD interests are in avian behavior and phylogeography, divergence of sexual signals, and extra-pair mating in birds.



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Joe Welklin (PhD Candidate)

Joe studied the different functions of dark-eyed junco song in Ellen Ketterson's lab at Indiana University for his bachelor's degree, concluding with a thesis on how short-range song may act as a pre-zygotic isolating mechanism in this species. Since then he's begun pursuing a PhD in the Webster lab and has developed an interest in the myriad of factors that enforce honesty in signals and how these influence an individual's behavior. Currently he is designing a project to determine the relative effects physiological and social costs have on plumage signals in red-backed fairy-wrens.


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Undergraduates: We are proud – and fortunate! – to have several outstanding Cornell undergraduates working on projects in our lab. Several of these students are conducting projects on black-throated blue warblers: Dominique Hellmich is examining the effects of predation risk on reproductive decisions by females, Maria Smith is examining the effects of weather on parental investment by females, and Sarah Rubenstein is examining personality differences among individuals. On the fairy-wren front, Jake Durden and Grace Ahn are examining the effects of habitat and bush fires on transmission of red-backed fairy-wren songs as part of our NSF-funded IRES program. For a glimpse of past IRES students working in the field, check out this movie produced by former undergraduate Shailee Shah.