Evolutionary ecology of competitive phenotypes in females

Like males, females also have exaggerated weapons and displays that may be important in male mate choice or female-female competition. Much less is known, however, about the potential function of these traits in females. An often overlooked, potentially sexually-selected trait that is pervasive among female animals is aggressive behavior directed at other females. While some instances of female-female aggression are firmly grounded in the realm of natural selection (e.g. competition for food resources), other cases, such as competition for access to males or territories, provide a nearly identical parallel to sexual selection in males. My behavioral ecological work has investigated a range of fitness costs and benefits of intrasexual aggression in female tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). I am currently extending this work both empirically and theoretically, investigating the ecological and life history parameters that affect the evolutionary trajectory of competitive phenotypes in females.

  • Do females benefit from high levels of aggression? (Click to reveal details)

  • Are female competitive phenotypes really very costly? (Click to reveal details)


Evolution and plasticity of neuroendocrine mechanisms of behavior

Understanding the physiological and genomic mechanisms underlying behavioral variation is a key step in linking behavior with evolution because it can point to the targets of selection in phenotypic evolution. The degree to which social experience or environmental change tinker with these mechanisms is another critical issue in a broad understanding of behavioral mechanisms. Much of my current work explores individual, sex, and population differences in neural and genomic mechanisms of behavior in the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis).

  • Do males and females share common behavioral mechanisms? (Click to reveal details)

  • How do hormone-mediated traits and mechanisms of behavior evolve? (Click to reveal details)

  • How do social challenges prime an animal for future social instability? (Click to reveal details)