Research

Overview

“Modern man faces nature only by proxy, or as proxy, through others or for others, and the intimacy is lost. In the wilds, the contact is direct and immediate; it is the foothold upon earth, the touch of the soil itself that gives strength.”

 W.W. Worster in his translation of The Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun

Our research group is guided by the idea that a greater understanding of natural systems can lead to insights into a number of fundamental questions in animal behavior, ecology, and evolution. Our major focus is on understanding the evolutionary and physiological mechanisms that enable wild animals to cope with environmental change as well as the ultimate and proximate causes of variation in behavioral and life history traits.

We study many different research questions but we focus on those that integrate animal behavior, evolution, ecology, and physiology. We believe in a multi-level and integrative approach to addressing our research questions. As such, we study the physiology, behavior, and life histories of wild animals in the field, use detailed laboratory analyses, and compile databases from existing literature for use in comparative analyses. In this fashion, we are able to address our research questions from mechanistic and evolutionary perspectives using insights gained from observational and experimental work in wild animals supplemented with comparative analyses across species.

 

What are the “big questions” we address?

How do animals adapt to changing environments?

What mechanisms mediate parental effects and what are the evolutionary consequences of parental effects?

What are the proximate and evolutionary causes of variation in parental care and pair-bonding (monogamous) behavior?

Why do some individuals or species exhibit more social or cooperative behavior than others?

How do developmental conditions shape the physiology, behavior, and life history characteristics of individuals?

How does natural selection act upon physiological and behavioral traits in wild animals?

Do physiological systems shape or constrain evolutionary patterns of life history traits?

How do individual differences in behavior (animal personality) and physiology influence ecological range expansions?

 

How do we actually study these questions?

We study these questions by performing field work in wild animals including long-term observational studies and large-scale ecological experiments. We collect physiological samples in the field and then perform laboratory analyses on these samples.

Our current study systems include North American red squirrels in the Yukon in collaboration with the Kluane Red Squirrel Project, meerkats in collaboration with the Kalahari Meerkat Project, Eurasian red squirrels in collaboration with Luc Wauters and the Alpine Squirrel Population Ecology Research Project, and we are establishing new study systems in wild mice populations throughout Michigan including at the UM Biological Station in addition to studies of the social behavior of prairie voles at the Ecology Research Center at Miami University in Ohio.

 

Collaborators

A great part of science is being able to collaborate  with great friends and colleagues. Our research is made possible by many excellent collaborators: