Social behavior, boldness, and learning in jays

For my PhD dissertation I color-banded populations of wild Mexican jays (Aphelocoma wollweberi), a communal cooperative species, and the relatively asocial California scrub-jay (A. californica) to study the relationship between social behavior, boldness and learning.  I used a puzzle box task to compare species ability to individually and socially learn. I also used two different assays to measure boldness, and I conducted focal follows to quantify social network structure of each species.

The distinct social environment of the two species was related to interesting differences in learning and boldness.  See the published results here. See videos of this work here.

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Photo credit: Kelsey McCune

Behavioral ecology of a species with a rapidly expanding range

As a postdoctoral researcher, I currently study great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) in Tempe, AZ and Woodland, CA.  Endemic to Central America, grackles have been breeding in Tempe for approximately 65 years and in Woodland for around 15 years.  As part of The Grackle Project, led by Corina Logan, I've created experiments to measure individual variation in boldness and exploration, space use behavior, and learning.  We will compare these behaviors in grackles from populations across the current range to determine which characteristics relate to a species' ability to invade new areas.   

See the preregistrations for my experiments here.

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How to survive in a city

In late 2022, I will transition to a co-PI role on the ManyIndividuals project.  My research will first evaluate a suite of behavioral and cognitive traits in congeneric species (California scrub-jays and Florida scrub-jays) that differ in their ability to expand into human-modified environments.  Secondly, this project will implement an intervention using methods validated on the Grackle Project (see above) to determine whether behavioral traits related to success in human-modified environments can be trained in endangered species to improve survival and fitness.  

Photo credit: Maggie MacPherson
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     © Christoph Moning

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© Audubon Field Guide

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     © Craig Faulhaber

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© Audubon Field Guide