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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Dan Baldassarre (graduate student)

Dan received his bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University while working in J. Albert C. Uy’s lab. His research there examined the behavioral mechanisms responsible for maintaining a color polymorphism in the fish Poecilia parae. Dan is now pursuing his PhD in the Webster lab studying the role of sexual selection in mediating divergence and reproductive isolation between two subspecies of the red-backed fairy-wren in Australia. Dan loves the Webster lab so much that he moved all the way across the country twice just so he could stay in it! Please see his website for more information about current work.  

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Rebecca Brunner (graduate student)

Becca went to Cornell as an undergrad, where she majored in English and Biology. Since then, she has lived and worked in two remote jungles: Peru’s Manu National Park for a project investigating avian incubation and nesting behavior along an elevation gradient, and in the Philippines, where she conducted herpetological surveys and field experiments in order to predict future impacts of climate change—particularly on different life history stages and within different microhabitats. Becca also holds a Masters in Environmental Science and Policy degree from Columbia University, where she concentrated mainly on biodiversity conservation and forest policy (REDD+) in the tropics. She presented her team’s policy recommendations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Thailand in 2011. Becca is excited to be researching frog communication in the Webster lab, especially within the context of disease (exploring the correlation between call quality and pathogen load) and climate change (exploring the potential impacts on multi-species choruses).


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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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Jenélle Dowling (graduate student)

Jenélle studied Oriole pairing behavior with Kevin Omland's lab during her bachelor's degree at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She then began work with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center that sent her to several remote, beautiful and scientifically interesting locations. Her primary interests are in signal adaptation and her recent project with Pete Marra focused onacoustic variation of bird song with urban noise. Jenélle is now pursuing a PhD in the Webster lab investigating the function of vocal signaling and the role of kin recognition in highly social, cooperatively-breeding birds in Australia.


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Sara Kaiser (Postdoc)

Sara received her PhD from the Webster lab in 2013 and is now a postdoc continuing her research on the impact of climate (including anthropogenic climate change) on avian life-history decisions and the hormonal mechanisms that influence variation in avian reproductive and survival strategies. She studies Black-throated Blue Warblers in collaboration with researchers at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center[link: ] at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest[link: ] in New Hampshire, and lives to have her head in a cloud of black flies each May. Find out more about Sara’s work at her website: http://www.sarakaiser.com/, or watch this PBS special http://video.nhptv.org/video/2148904255/ to see her in action!

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Bret Pasch (Postdoc)

Bret is a new post-doc in the Lab who has broad interests in the ecology and mechanisms of animal acoustic communication, particularly in relation to species interactions. His dissertation focused on proximate mechanisms and ultimate factors underlying vocal production and perception in Neotropical singing mice (Scotinomys) in the cloud forests of Middle America. Bret also has long-standing interests in the natural history and conservation of mammals. Please see his website for more information about current work.  

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Derrick Thrasher (graduate student)

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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Joe Welklin (graduate student)

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. Shailee Shah and Duncan Yandell are all continuing their projects examining the evolution of vocal signals in Australian fairy-wrens, and Shailee also has been conducting fieldwork at the Shoals Marine Lab to study alarm calls in gulls. Kathryn Grabenstein is now developing a project to examine the influence of environmental condition on offspring sex ratios in blue warblers. And we welcome three new undergraduates into the lab: Vera Ivezic and Kat Zelak, who will be participating in this Summer’s IRES program, and Dominique Hellmich will be starting an independent project on blue warblers.