The Research

This research focuses on how ecological environment and social organization of red-backed fairywrens during the prebreeding season influence behavioral phenotype and ultimately, fitness.  US PIs have studied this species in dry schlerophyll forests of eastern Australia since 1999, allowing current IRES research to build upon this foundation. To do so, we exploit the considerable flexibility red-backed fairywrens exhibit in social organization, expression of sexual signals, and mating behavior. By characterizing the degree to which red-backed fairywrens use flexible behavioral and physiological strategies to negotiate the ecological and social environment that they experience, and comparing this flexibility with other tropical and temperate species, we expect this research to further our understanding of avian signal evolution and how prebreeding season environment can carryover to influence breeding season fitness.

A male red-backed fairywren molting from brown, female-like plumage to red/black ornamented breeding plumage. The timing of this transition is important for reproductive success.

A social network of red-backed fairywren interactions. Each node represents and individual, with connections representing that these individuals were observed together.

A social network of red-backed fairywren interactions. Each node represents and individual, with connections representing that these individuals were observed together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discrete student projects may include the following:

(1)  Habitat quality and mapping habitat use. Students can measure vegetative structure, conduct standardized insect collection, and monitor space use using GPS units to create home range kernels.

(2)  Demography & social organization. Students can quantify social interactions between colorbanded individuals and compare social metrics with individual characteristics including sex, phenotype, and condition. Students may also compare social group composition to relatedness, to test the potential for kin selection in social groups.

(3)  Visual signals. Students can collect feather samples from the carotenoid-based red patch on the back of ornamented males (followed by spectrometer-based measures of feather color upon return to the U.S.) and compare to ecological environment.

(4)  Acoustical signals. Students can use recording equipment to obtain standardized recordings of males in different habitat types (followed by analyses using Raven software upon return to the U.S.).

(5) Behavioral displays. Students can investigate how ecological and social environment influence sexual signaling and displays, including petal displays (when ornamented males carry flowers to display to females).

 

 

 

This research is supported by the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering’s International Research Experience for Students program.

 

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