Welcome to Josh LaPergola's home page!

Current Position: Postdoctoral Research Associate

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544

e-mails: jl101 at princeton.edu; jbl96 at cornell.edu; jlapblca at gmail.com

See also profiles on ResearchGate and Google Scholar

Welcome to my web site! I am currently a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Dr. Christie Riehl at Princeton University, where I work with the lab on various projects pertaining to the behavioral ecology of Neotropical birds. My postdoc was originally supposed to address group decision-making in Greater Anis (Crotophaga major), and prior to March 2020, I had made great progress in improving field capture rates and getting adults marked for future behavioral experiments. However, because the pandemic ground international travel to a halt and tossed daycare into seemingly perpetual chaos, I pivoted to lab-based work using ddRAD-seq to delineate genetic mating systems and genetic group structures of birds. So far, I've leveraged this next-gen sequencing approach to re-analyze the genetic mating system of the Black Catbird (Melanoptila glabrirostris), the species I studied for my MS. Most recently, I've applied this technique to describe the genetic structure of Palmchat (Dulus dominicus) colonies.

I completed my Ph.D. in 2018 in Cornell's Department of Neurobiology and Behavior where I was co-advised by Walter Koenig and Mike Webster. My dissertation research concerned the ecology and evolution of cooperation and conflict in animal societies. I undertook a field study of the Hispaniolan Woodpecker (Melanerpes striatus; pictured below) in the Dominican Republic. The species often breeds colonially, with nests tightly clumped together. The extent of sociality varies within populations: nests sometimes occur singly but more commonly one can find colonies of two or more nests in the same tree or adjacent trees. The record for largest colony so far goes to a clump of apparently 26 active breeding pairs in one tree (observed by Robert Wallace in the 1960's). My fieldwork involved attempting to better understand the intricacies of the woodpecker's social breeding system and social and genetic mating systems with the hopes of understanding what environmental pressures influence this observed variation.

For my master's research at Villanova University with Bob Curry, I undertook the first intensive study of the social system and genetic mating system of the Yucatán Peninsula endemic Black Catbird (Melanoptila glabrirostris) at two sites in Quintana Roo, Mexico. In particular, I collected data on various aspects of the catbird's natural history, providing the first detailed characterization of its parental care system. I simultaneously utilized a natural experiment (mainland-island comparison) to assess the effects of breeding density and genetic diversity on the catbird's genetic mating system.

Over more than a decade of work with Neotropical birds, I have come to appreciate the value of basic natural history. These data provide the foundation and fodder for ecological and evolutionary inquiry. Yet basic breeding biology data are missing for many Neotropical species. As such, I took advantage of my time in the field to collect opportunistic natural history data on such poorly known birds. For example, in the course of my MS work, I made opportunistic observations of endemic breeding birds on Saint Lucia (British West Indies) and in Mexico. Published examples include the first definitive description of the nest and eggs of the Gray Trembler (Cinclocerthia gutturalis) on St. Lucia, and the first descriptions of the nest, eggs, and breeding phenology of Cozumel Vireo (Vireo bairdi). I have published various other such manuscripts and am currently preparing other natural history observations for publication.

Prior to my master's research, I worked on a diversity of research projects as an undergraduate at Rowan University, including: phylogenetics and dental anatomy of fossil perissodactyls (with Luke Holbrook); behavioral and population responses of fiddler crabs to the invasive Phragmites australis in the salt marshes of southern New Jersey (with Mike Grove); and navigation behavior of homing pigeons (with Gerald Hough).