Postdoctoral Scholars Program

Current Postdocs

Marcelo Araya-Salas/postdoc 2016   Postdoc Araya-Salas hummer project

Recordinig at La Selva Biological Station,
Costa Rica. 
Photo by Maxime Alliaga.

  Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris)
at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica.
Photo by Maxime Alliaga.










Marcelo Araya-Salas, 2016--present

Marcelo's research focuses on using Neotropical study systems and novel analytical methods to evaluate ideas in behavioral and evolutionary biology. His first paper examined the harmonic content in Nightingale Wren songs, which provided no support to a long-standing belief in the musicality of bird song. He recently co-authored two studies on hummingbird behavior, derived from his Ph.D. research, showing for the first time that 1) their bills have adapted to serve as weapons in agonistic encounters and 2) hummingbirds exhibit open-ended vocal learning. He also co-authored a recent study suggesting that vocal learning does not seem to accelerate the evolution of acoustic signals in Neotropical parrots. He plans to continue this research as a postdoctoral associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, evaluating whether cultural transmission can promote signal divergence and clade diversification over evolutionary time.

Marcelo has also been involved in the development of computational tools for the analysis of animal vocalizations on the R platform. He and his collaborators have made available an R package (warbleR, that provides tools to streamline high-throughput acoustic analysis of animal sounds. Owing to this experience, he has provided training opportunities in animal communication research in regional (Central America) and international conferences.



2016 postdoc   Baltimore and Bullock's orioles 

Shawn holding a Semipalmated Plover in
Churchill, Manitoba. Photo by Andy Johnson.


Baltimore Oriole (left) by Bryan Hix; Bullock's
Oriole by Ganesh Jayaraman, both via BirdShare.

Shawn Billerman, 2016--present

Shawn is broadly interested in understanding patterns of avian speciation. His research takes advantage of museum collections, and focuses on using hybrid zones to understand how intrinsic and extrinsic processes have influenced how and where species hybridize, and ultimately what factors are important to understanding reproductive isolation.

At Cornell, Shawn will be studying hybridization across five different hybrid zones from the Great Plains of North America. The birds that hybridize in this region that will be part of Shawn’s research include Indigo and Lazuli buntings, Rose-breasted and Black-headed grosbeaks, Eastern and Spotted towhees, Baltimore and Bullock’s orioles, and Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted flickers. Shawn will use genomic data from specimens in the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates, as well as climate models to understand the important factors that have shaped these co-occurring hybrid zones. At Cornell, Shawn will be working with Dr. Irby Lovette and the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program, and is funded by an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Prior to starting his postdoctoral work at Cornell, Shawn received his Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming in 2016, working with Dr. Matt Carling. For his dissertation research, Shawn studied the factors that contribute to movement of a hybrid zone between Red-naped and Red-breasted Sapsuckers in the Pacific Northwest. 


 Lilly Briggs     Briggs_Guatemala

Photo by Lilly Briggs.


Lilly Briggs going birding with young Q'eqchi' Maya women in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Photo by Kevin Vande Vusse.

Lilly Briggs, 2016--present

As a postdoctoral associate, I will focus on research and program development involving continued collaboration with the Education and Citizen Science programs, to help expand, enhance, and evaluate the Lab’s educational efforts with underserved audiences, particularly in Latin America.  

As part of my Masters of Environmental Studies degree at York University in Toronto, Canada, I collaborated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to conduct the first field test of a Latin American version of the Education program’s environmental education and citizen-science curriculum, BirdSleuth. While pursuing my Ph.D. in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, I remained actively involved in further developing the BirdSleuth-International program. My work included co-writing the official BirdSleuth-International curriculum, as well as organizing and delivering workshops throughout seven different countries in Latin America for formal and informal educators on the use of the curriculum and participation in eBird. 

Increasing evidence suggests that certain place attachments and place meanings-–which together form an individual’s sense of place-–can have a positive influence on pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. I sought to build upon previous work in this emerging area of inquiry through qualitative research among the Q’eqchi’ Maya of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, with a particular focus on the young female Q’eqchi’ participants in an environmental education and youth development program called Women, Agroecology, and Leadership for Conservation (WALC), facilitated annually by Community Cloud Forest Conservation. In conducting my research, I not only examined the many environmental and social impacts of the WALC program on participants and their communities, but also investigated young Q’eqchi’ women’s sense of place, as well as why they are motivated to engage in environmental stewardship practices.



Photo by Justin Welbergen.


Superb Lyrebird. Photo by Alex Maisey.

Anastasia Dalziell, 2014-present

In Anastasia’s research she uses avian model systems to investigate key issues in behavioral and sensory ecology: how animals communicate with each other, and why communication signals have evolved into certain designs. Being especially curious about signals and cues involving sound, she has conducted research into vocal mimicry, the dawn chorus, and song dialects (among others).

Anastasia's current research focus is on the functional significance of complex signals–signals made up of multiple components expressed in one or more sensory modalities. She is investigating the function and evolution of integrated song and "dance" displays using the Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) as a model species.

Anastasia’s academic background is in behavioral ecology. Her first degree was a BSc/BMus from the Australian National University, which included a year’s exchange at the University of Oxford. For her honors’ research she investigated the structure and function of dawn choruses in the Superb Fairy-Wren (Malurus cyaneus) with Professor Andrew Cockburn. Next, she pursued her interest in birdsong in Costa Rica where she joined a research project on the Banded Wren (Thryophilus pleurostictus) being conducted by Professor Sandra Vehrencamp and Dr. Michelle Hall from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Back at the Australian National University, Anastasia investigated the ecology of vocal mimicry in the Superb Lyrebird for her Ph.D. research, under the primary supervision of Professor Rob Magrath, and advised by Professor Cockburn, Dr. Hall, Dr. Naomi Langmore, and the late Dr. Richard Zann. Website:



Daniela in Bateke Plateau National Park in Gabon where she was working as a biomonitoring coordinator. Photo by Matthieu Bonnet.


Forest elephants at Dzanga Bai in the Dzanga Sangha Reserve in the Central African Republic. Photo by Daniela Hedwig.

Daniela Hedwig, 2016--present

As a postdoc with the Elephant Listening Project, Daniela will use passive acoustic monitoring to investigate elephant abundance and activity in relation to signs of human encroachment, develop a warning system to mitigate human-elephant conflict and support anti-poaching patrols, and to investigate the function of forest elephant vocalizations. The conservation status of African forest elephants is rapidly becoming catastrophic. Fuelled by the illegal poaching for ivory, the loss of habitat and conflicts with people, the population size of African forest elephants has seen a devastating decline by more than 60% within just 10 years.

Daniela’s passion for the conservation of African wildlife has led her to co-initiate community outreach projects in collaboration with national authorities, NGOs, and the private sector. She spearheaded a long-term biomonitoring program for The Aspinall Foundation in the Bateke Plateau National Park in Gabon, a landscape heavily influenced by human encroachment. Most recently she was working with WWF Germany on wildlife crime related issues, particularly regarding the ongoing African elephant poaching crisis.

Daniela received her Ph.D. from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany where she studied the vocal behavior of wild western gorillas in Central African Republic and mountain gorillas in Uganda.


eBird     08_Sapsuckers

Conducting field work in Borneo. Photo by Justin Hite.


 Female Little Hermit Hummingbird in Trinidad.
 Photo by Julian Kapoor.










Julian Kapoor, 2016-present

Julian is a musician and avid naturalist who has long been deeply fascinated by the seemingly endless variety inherent in the songs of birds. Despite this diversity in the form and function of birdsong, in-depth studies of the evolution of avian vocal behavior tend to be restricted to a subset of species (oscine passerines, or “typical” songbirds) that share similar life histories (temperate, socially monogamous, and territorial). HIs goal, as an organismal biologist and behavioral ecologist, is to study the evolution of vocal communication, especially learned song, in “non-traditional” taxa with less well-studied life histories to identify unifying themes in the evolution of vocal learning and signal diversity. He will conduct these studies using a combination of observational and experimental field studies, mathematical modeling, molecular genetics, and by developing cutting edge sound analysis and radio telemetry tools.

His recent work has focused on the evolution of vocal plasticity, learning, and cultural evolution among species with lek and lek-like mating systems, where intense sexual selection is thought to have led to stunning elaboration of male sexual signals (including song). As an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, and then a visiting researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology, he studied the development of coordinated duets among lekking male Lance-tailed Manakins (Chiroxiphia lanceolata) in Panama, and in collaboration with Dr. Emily DuVal. As a graduate student in the department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, he first studied the evolution of vocal learning in lekking Bearded Bellbirds (Procnias averano) in Venezuela before focusing his primary dissertation work on the functional significance of microgeographic dialects in lekking Little Hermit Hummingbirds (Phaethornis longuemareus) in Trinidad.

As a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab, he is part of the Webster lab and will study the influence of social information on the use of vocal and visual displays in the temporary lek-like aggregations of Red-backed Fairy-wrens (Malurus melanocephalus) that form during the pre-breeding season in Australia.



At work in the field while studying cooperative nest construction among Sociable Weavers.


Sociable Weavers create large, multi-chambered nests that can house as many as 100 pairs of birds. Photo by Rul Ornelas

Gavin Leighton, 2015-present

Gavin is behavioral ecologist with a background in animal behavior, population genetics, individual-based modeling, and sexual selection. Gavin is interested in both the evolutionary mechanisms that maintain sociality and the resultant effects of sociality on behavior. Gavin will expand on his previous research by using comparative methods to understand how sociality influences vocalizations in avian species.

Gavin received his Ph.D. from the University of Miami in 2015. His dissertation investigated the evolutionary maintenance of cooperative nest construction in Sociable Weavers. Gavin is currently a PERT Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Arizona. He is now performing RNA sequencing work and colony manipulations to understand division of labor in ants.

Gavin was awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology from 2015 to 2017. Gavin will continue to pursue his interests in social behavior and group dynamics by utilizing sounds in the Macaulay Library to investigate how bird vocalizations change due to the evolution of sociality. More info about Gavin can be found at

Russell Ligon     
Admiring Bradypodion transvaalense, the Transvaal
dwarf chameleon. Photo by Ryan Daniels.
   A currently unnamed species of dwarf chameleon.
 Photo by Russell LIgon.











Russell Ligon, 2015-present

My research program is centered on the colorful visual signals used by animals during social interactions. Animals rely on diverse traits to communicate with one another and I address questions relating to visual communication at all four of Tinbergen's levels of analysis--examining developmental influences, underlying mechanisms, evolutionary history, and adaptive benefits of these signals.

To better understand how colorful signals function during social interactions, I couple sensory models with correlational and experimental studies to evaluate reptilian and avian signals from organismal perspectives. I conduct lab-based studies to control for environmental influences and field-based studies to measure signal expression and use in natural settings. Additionally, I use high-definition video and advanced analytic tools to quantify color and behavioral data in real-time, and I will continue to incorporate new technologies into my research to better understand the adaptive value of signals and signal design.

More information about Russell's research at

Photo by Sarah Wagner.   Blue-faced Honeyeater. Photo by Bryan Suson.

Eliot Miller, 2015-present

Eliot has been an avid naturalist from a young age, and particularly enjoys watching and finding birds and plants. After completing his undergraduate degree, he worked on a variety of field projects, including sites in Alaska, Ontario, Massachusetts, Mexico, and Ecuador. Work in Ecuador eventually led him to graduate school at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, where he worked under the tutelage of Robert Ricklefs. He later co-enrolled at Macquarie University in Sydney, and received additional training in Mark Westoby’s lab. His dissertation focused on patterns of phylogenetic community structure and evolution through climate space in two iconic Australian radiations, the Meliphagidae (a bird family) and the Hakeinae (a plant subfamily). His interests include ecomorphology, foraging behavior, patterns of diversification, and adaptations to novel environments. Eliot has received an National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship to study species distribution models in the Harmon and Nuismer laboratories at the University of Idaho. This project will rely on eBird data and resources that involve ongoing collaborations with Lab scientists. After Eliot’s NSF-funded work concludes, he will become an in-house postdoctoral scholar based at the Lab of Ornithology. More information about Eliot's research at


     NestCams Logo

Karan with a Troupial in Puerto Rico. Photo by Kevin


 Recording birds in Puerto Rico. Photo by Kati Fleming. 

Karan Odom, arriving 2017

Karan is a behavioral ecologist interested in the evolution of elaborate traits in female as well as male animals. Karan is especially interested in how complex vocal communication, such as bird song, evolves and, specifically, the selection pressures that act on females versus males to select for these traits. Karan uses large-scale phylogenetic reconstruction and comparative methods to compare evolutionary patterns of bird song across female and male songbirds of many different species. Karan combines this information with field-based methods to assess the function and selection pressures acting on female song and duets of mated pairs.

Karan was awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for the research she will conduct at the Cornell Lab. She will be using the Macaulay Library to compare evolutionary patterns of song structure in male and female songbirds. She will conduct her research with Dr. Mike Webster, director of the Macaulay Library and Dr. Irby Lovette, Chair of the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program at the Lab.

Karan conducted her Ph.D. at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) under Dr. Kevin Omland and her Masters with Dr. Daniel Mennill at the University of Windsor. Karan's Ph.D. research focused on the prevalence and function of song in female songbirds, including ancestral state reconstruction of the evolution of female song across songbirds and field studies with troupials, a tropical songbird in Puerto Rico. Her Masters research focused on the function and geographic variation of duets in Barred Owls.


Mario with Island Scrub-Jay. Photo by Katie Langin.   Acorn Woodpecker by Melanie Baker.

Mario Pesendorfer, 2014-present

Mario’s research is driven by an interest in the ecological causes and consequences of animal behavior. Here at the Cornell Lab he is studying how seed predation and dispersal by Western Scrub-Jays (A. californica) and Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) varies with large-scale and local acorn abundance at the Hastings Natural History Reserve in Carmel Valley, California.

During his undergraduate and master’s studies at the University of Vienna, Austria, he worked with Ludwig Huber and Thomas Bugnyar, investigating the cognitive abilities of primates and birds. For his master’s thesis, he compared the role of individual and social learning in the ability of Keas (Nestor notabilis) to acquire a novel foraging skill.

Before starting his Ph.D., Mario spent time in Brazil’s Atlantic Rain Forest, studying the social transmission of novel behavior in free-living groups of common marmosets. In 2008, he began a doctoral program in the Avian Cognition Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Under the supervision of Alan Kamil, he investigated scatter-hoarding by Island Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma insularis) and their role as seed dispersers for oaks on Santa Cruz Island in California’s Channel Islands National Park. Interestingly, he found that seed dispersal rates and distances correlated positively with acorn abundance in the local oak species which varies tremendously between years.  

Photo by Dimitri Ponirakis.   Forest elephant photo by Peter Wrege.

Yu Shiu, 2012-present

Yu Shiu's research interests include automatic information extraction from sound recordings and large-scale ecological modeling of baleen whales, forest elephants and their environment.

Upon arrival at the Lab, Yu Shiu became a postdoc with the Harder Project in the Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP). Since Yu Shiu’s specialties are signal processing, machine learning, and statistics, he is responsible for the algorithm design used to automatically extract  information from wildlife sound recordings. He works very closely with the Lab's Elephant Listening Project (ELP) which is building an information portal for all the sounds that ELP has been collecting for years in Central Africa. In addition, he has been working with Merlin Bird ID app project on the automatic identification of bird species by sounds. 
Yu Shiu has also been involved with using sounds to estimate the size of animal populations and other statistical ecological modeling. For example, vocalizations can be used to estimate whale populations and their distribution and can also help scientists undertand the potential impact of environmental variables. The challenge in his work is to come up with automatic algorithms with predictable performance so that the prohibitively huge amount of sound data can be processed in a reasonable amount of time and then converted to useful scientific information in ecological level.

Yu Shiu comes from an engineering background on signal processing with a Ph.D. from University of Southern California (USC) and a Master of Science from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). 

Conor holding a Common Yellowthroat. Photo by Corey Freeman-Gallant.   Male Common Yellowthroat warbler from the color-banded population that Conor has studied since 2005. Photo by Conor Taff.    

Conor Taff, 2015-present

Conor is an organismal biologist with broad training in animal behavior, sexual selection, molecular ecology, and physiological ecology. His research program addresses questions that span multiple levels of biological organization; the overall goal is to understand both how cellular and physiological processes influence organismal performance in natural populations and how individual variation in behavior or resources, in turn, influences cellular processes. His background is in animal communication, but recent interests include disease and movement ecology and the influence of early life conditions on individual variation in life histories.

Conor received his PhD from the University of California, Davis in 2013. His dissertation focused on the evolution of complex sexual signals in Common Yellowthroat warblers. This work contributed to his winning the Merton Love Award for best dissertation in ecology or evolution at UC Davis, the Animal Behavior Society Warder Clyde Allee Award, and the Cooper Ornithological Society Young Professional Award. Conor is currently a USDA NIFA Postdoctoral Fellow and is studying the ecology and epidemiology of zoonotic disease transmission in American Crows.

Conor will be arriving at the Lab of Ornithology in 2015 as an in-house postdoctoral scholar. In addition to continuing his ongoing work, Conor will be joining the long running Tree Swallow project at the Lab to study the way that stressful breeding conditions influence physiological senescence, survival, and stress responsiveness in both nestlings and adults.



Photo by Jill Jankowski.


Yellow-rumped Warbler by David Toews.

David Toews, 2014-present

David is an evolutionary biologist and molecular ecologist. Much of his research relies on combining genetic data with other physiological, behavioral and biogeographic information to make inferences about evolutionary processes. His field studies have mostly focused on studying contact zones and hybrids zones in wood warblers and wrens in western North America. 

Currently he is studying genetic and phenotypic variation in the Yellow-rumped Warbler species complex. In particular, his research has focused on traits involved with migration, as populations in this group differ in both their migratory tendency (i.e., residents versus migrants) and direction (i.e., orientation on fall migration). With a number of international collaborators, he is also working to better understand how genetic variation is distributed within and among different populations of this diverse taxon.

David received his master’s and Ph.D. in Darren Irwin’s lab at the University of British Columbia.

Jennifer Walsh   Saltmarsh sharp-tailed Sparrow
Photo by by Adrenne Kovach.    Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow by Bri Benvenuti.












Jennifer Walsh, 2016--present

Jen’s research focuses on understanding selective mechanisms responsible for driving reproductive isolation in naturally occurring avian hybrid zones. Her work to date has focused on combining traditional field data with genetic analyses to understand intrinsic selection and ecological divergence between two tidal marsh birds, the Saltmarsh and Nelson’s sparrow.

Jen’s future work at Cornell will combine genomic and phenotypic data with archived biological specimens to test hypotheses of hybrid zone evolution between Nelson’s and Saltmarsh sparrows over a 125 year time period. This work will address fundamental questions concerning the maintenance of pure species boundaries in the face of increased gene flow and a rapid hybrid zone expansion.

Jen has been awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to address these research objectives. She received a Ph.D. in Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science from the University of New Hampshire (2015) in the lab of Dr. Adrienne Kovach.


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