Thursday, August 21, 2014

Allie's project: What did she say?

 My name is Allie Burnett and I am an undergraduate at Michigan State University in Zoology. This summer I returned to KBS to work on another project related to Cara's research.

When I first started studying birds, I found the varying types of songs and responses to these songs interesting. I wanted to know what these birds were "saying" to each other and what determined which type of song was used. The discovery of female song in our House Wren population intensified this curiosity, especially since female song is unexpected in temperate zone House Wrens. The huge difference in responses to various female songs supported the idea that each song was communicating something specific to the recipient. Perhaps these females, who responded most aggressively to other female song, were using songs to communicate and compete with rival females. One of the most important things to communicate to a rival female is something that will influence the outcome of a fight, such as physical condition. We knew from prior experiments that specific song characteristics elicited greater aggressive responses; did these song characteristics also correlate with physical characteristics of the female singing them? In order to find this out, we spent the summer recording songs and gathering physical measurements from each female. After hours of song analysis, we found that female condition does influence female song. Not only did females of higher condition sing a greater variety of songs, but they also sang more notes per second and a higher percentage of a syllable named "R." These characteristics were the same ones that elicited high aggressive responses. These results lead me to further question why females of higher condition sing differently. It is possible these females can afford to sing songs that elicit more aggressive responses in order to obtain resources. Alternatively, maybe these song characteristics elicit such aggressive responses because they are more likely to be sung by a high condition female, and therefore a much larger threat. Only more research will be able to tease apart the secrets of female song.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Animal Behavior Society Conference

The Getty lab just returned from the annual Animal Behavior Society Conference held at Princeton.  We had a strong showing this year.  I gave a short talk on the relationship between female aggression and offspring performance.  I've found that more aggressive females have heavier babies.  In many birds, the heavier your babies, the better the chance they have at surviving.  This is an important finding because it could be a way that female aggression evolved in female house wrens.

A blurry picture of me from the audience of my talk

The other members of the Getty lab presented their latest findings too.  Sara presented a poster on her work on how growing up with or without your siblings changes your growth and development in tree frog tadpoles.  Michael also had a poster on his work on whether aging or physical condition changes the risks tree frogs are willing to take when finding a mate. 

Michael's former URA and current research assistant, Levi, joined us and presented a poster on a project he did with Michael.  Levi found that poor condition male frogs are willing to take more risks when they think predators are around in order to attract females.  Levi's poster was so good he won the Genesis award for the best undergrad poster at the whole conference!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Undergrad Research Symposium

Half of science is communication.  The results of your experiments don't mean much if you never tell anyone about them.  Scientists share their results through articles in scientific journals, talk to various audiences, and poster sessions at scientific conferences.

The undergraduates at KBS celebrated the end of their field season with a poster session.  Each undergrad made a poster about their project and then explained them to visitors as they filtered through the room.  Both Aaron and Allie's posters came out beautifully.  Allie's poster explained how certain things about a female's song may communicate her fighting condition to female rivals.  Aaron's poster showed how female house wrens can use their egg color to tell males they are in good condition.