Research - Nazca boobies

Nazca Booby: Isla Española, Galápagos, Ecuador
Non-Parental Chick Maltreatment
One of the most compelling features of human child abuse is its intergenerational
nature. While this “cycle of violence” has been extensively documented, little is 
known regarding the mechanism of intergenerational transmission. At our study
site on Isla Española, Galápagos, all Nazca booby chicks are visited by
non-parental adult visitors (NAVs) who display parental, aggressive, and/or
sexual behavior toward the chick.  Our lab has found that the degree of
victimization during NAV events as a nestling is strongly correlated with future
NAV behavior as an adult, reminiscent of the "cycle of violence" in human biology. 
I am investigating whether the stress experienced by chicks during NAV events
results in long or short term hormonal alterations which predispose them to
become abusive as an adult, or if NAV behavior is learned socially as is thought
to be the case in humans.  Under an NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant, I have
extended this work to search for polymorphisms in neurotransmitter-related genes
which may interact with the environment to influence this "cycle of violence" in
Nazca boobies.

This work has been published in Hormones and Behavior 60(1):78-85, and Auk 128(4): 615.







Booby Personality 


In the past decade, the study of nonhuman personality, or “behavioral syndromes,”

has suddenly moved out of the realm of psychology and become of great interest

to behavioral and evolutionary ecologists.  We now know that individuals of many

species exhibit consistent and predictable variation in behavior and underlying

physiology that is maintained across several different contexts. These personality

traits are genetically heritable, related to other traits, such as food intake, growth,

dispersal, and productivity, and result in quantifiable fitness consequences via

mate-choice, survivorship, and reproduction. Nazca boobies display personality

traits that are consistent between weeks and years, and have links with the 

corticosterone stress response.  I am currently investigating the long-term fitness

consequences of these different behavioral strategies, and the influence of early-life

experiences (and their associated hormonal changes) in shaping personality traits

This work has been published in General and Comparative Endocrinology 208: 39-48,

and Behaviour 151(9): 1281 – 1311.