Current research projects generally fall into one or more of three areas of interest:
Of the endless variety of behavior that has evolved to assist animals in finding and securing mates, one of the most unique adaptations is monogamy, a mating system characterized by prolonged pair-bonds and often, bi-parental care of offspring. While common among birds, monogamy is rare (but present) in fishes, mammals, non-avian reptiles and amphibians, and even some invertebrates. In our lab, we try to understand the proximate and ultimate forces that have driven the evolution of monogamy and how these forces continue to act. Specifically, we study how inter- and intra- sexual selection interact in the formation of pair bonds and what role steroid hormones play in this process.
Even a casual observer of nature has witnessed fights and aggressive encounters between non-human animals (e.g. rams head butting or squabbles at backyard bird feeders). Perhaps surprisingly, many animal contests are highly ritualistic and rarely result in serious injury or death. In our lab, we use the convict cichlid (known for their heightened aggression) to understand how and why animals fight. We study aggression in the context of territoriality, as well as intersexual competition and parental defense.
Habitat Use, Foraging, and Anti-predator behaviors
Animals must navigate their environments to find safety and resources for survival. The behavioral adaptations that have evolved from facing these challenges are unique to every species on the planet. Projects studying these behaviors in the lab have included the function of shoaling as an anti-predator strategy and the ability of individuals to select a secure territory and suitable nest-site.