“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder & humility.”

 Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder

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 are strongly committed to making academia more just, diverse, equitable, and inclusive in addition to doing our work in a cooperative and supportive environment.

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 our big questions?

The common thread that weaves all of our research questions (and lab members) together is that we are interested in understanding how animals use phenotypic plasticity to cope with fluctuating environments. Theory in evolutionary ecology guides our research and we adopt techniques from a variety of disciplines to study the following questions:

How do animals adapt to changing environments?

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

How do wild animals use sleep to cope with stressful environments?

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 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, Eurasian red squirrels in collaboration with Luc Wauters and the Alpine Squirrel Population Ecology Research Project, studies of the social behavior of prairie voles at the Ecology Research Center at Miami University in Ohio, and wild mice populations throughout Michigan including at the UM Biological Station.

What are we currently working on?

  1. Parental effects in North American red squirrels
  2. Neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying social behavior in wild animals
  3. How ecological factors shape the evolution of social behavior in prairie voles
  4. Mechanisms of life history evolution and plasticity of life history traits
  5. Ecological range expansion of wild mice
  6. Fitness consequences of sleep in wild squirrels