I am broadly interested in how ecological and mechanistic factors interact to produce behavioral variation within species. How might the social and ecological environments that an animal experiences affect its behavior, and what implications does behavioral variation have for ecological and evolutionary processes?

Current Research Projects:

Individual variation in dispersal behavior through a social landscape:

Young animals must often leave their birthplace and search for a new home before producing their own offspring; such movement between natal and breeding locations is known as natal dispersal. Dispersal behavior underlies many ecological processes. For example, individual movement across the landscape during dispersal provides crucial ecological connectivity in natural populations, and is critical for animals coping with human-induced changes to their environments, such as habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change. Despite the fundamental importance of dispersal for animals living in a changing world, we do not yet have a thorough understanding of the complexities of the dispersal process in undisturbed populations.

We are investigating how young animals navigate the complex social and ecological environments through which they must move during dispersal, by radiotracking the movements of both dispersing juvenile and resident adult brush mice (Peromyscus boylii) in their natural environment to answer the following questions: 1) How do pre-existing behavioral differences among individuals influence dispersal movements? 2) How do social interactions with resident adults affect the behavior of juveniles as they move through the landscape? 3) How are survival and reproductive success affected by the interplay of socioecological conditions and individual dispersal strategies? We are using a new automated animal tracking system, social network approaches, and genetic tools to develop a more complete understanding of dispersal dynamics in a natural population of brush mice.

This work is being conducted at the Quail Ridge Reserve in northern California, using the QuRiNet wireless network and QRAAT automated animal tracking system.

Funded by NSF CAREER (IOS-1149056)

Phenotype dependent dispersal, body size, and range shifts under climate change:

Plants and animals respond to a changing climate through shifts in time, space, and body size. However, the potential for interactions among these responses has received relatively little attention. Range shifts necessitate dispersal movements, and dispersal is highly dependent on individual phenotypic condition, including body size. In collaboration with Shannon McCauley and Dan Warren, I am using an experimental approach to assess how warmer conditions during development affect body size and phenotype dependent dispersal in dragonflies. We will use these field data to determine how incorporating phenotype dependent dispersal affects the predictions of range shift models, enhancing our ability to predict how a warming environment affects species distributions from the scale of landscapes to continents, through the mechanism of phenotype dependent dispersal.

Funded by NSF EAGER (DEB-1245415) to Shannon McCauley and an NMSU College of Arts and Sciences Mini-Grant to Karen Mabry