Research

My current research is largely focused on two topics: disease ecology, and analytical methodology for and application of species distribution/niche modelling…although I dabble in a variety of other research projects.

 

Disease Ecology

House Finch population trendHouse Finch abundance declined after the emergence of a new disease in the mid-1990s.

My work in disease ecology is as part of a large, collaborative research project that has been studying House Finches and the bacteria Mycoplasma gallisepticum that emerged as a novel pathogen in the mid-1990.  This research started with the use of citizen science projects in order to document the spread of the novel disease and it’s impact on populations of House Finches.  Subsequent funding from the NSF and NIH have allowed us to gain a better understanding of the processes of infection and transmission, and the evolution of the pathogen down to the level of genomic changes associated with evolved changes in virulence of the bacteria.  I am currently working to better understand the population-level consequences of these evolutionary changes to wild populations of House Finches.

 

Biological Insights from Bird Checklist Data

My work on distribution modelling involves the extraction of biological insights from the data being collected by eBird, another large and collaborative effort. Because participants collect data using a highly unstructured protocol — observers decide where and when to make their observations, expending as much or little effort as they choose — we need to develop and use analytical methods for removing observer-caused variation in the birds that are reported from the biologically-real variation in occurrence and abundance of birds.  Collaboration of statisticians and computer scientists has been essential to the development of appropriate methodologies.  We are using the output from analyses to both understand the basic ecological constraints on bird species, and to inform conservation and management decisions.  In the work with eBird’s data I serve as an interdisciplinary bridge: helping insure that the structure of analytical models is biologically realistic, and helping translate model outputs into biological insights.

 

Other Projects (a.k.a. Academic Attention Deficit Disorder)

While much of my work deals with disease ecology, and modelling of datda from eBird, I am interested in a variety of topics in the realms of population, behavioural, and evolutionary ecology of birds. These diverse interests have led to my involvement in a array of colleagues’ research projects. The common thread connecting all of this is the use of large, pre-existing sets of data to help answer biological questions.  At present, the colleagues who are involving me in this work are post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduates at Cornell.


Prospective graduate student? Unfortunately, as a Senior Research Associate I cannot supervise graduate students, but only serve as an external member of a graduate student’s committee.

Prospective post-doc? We have a large and diverse community of post-doctoral researchers at the Lab of Ornithology, and I am more than happy to discuss the potential for you to coming here.  See this web page for more information about post-doctoral research at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.