Postdoctoral Scholars Program

Current Postdocs

Marcelo Araya-Salas

Marcelo Araya-Salas

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, https://cran.r-project.org/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.

Website: http://marceloarayasalas.weebly.com/ 

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Shawn Billerman

Shawn Billerman

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. 

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Carrie Branch

Carrie Branch

Carrie is a behavioral ecologist interested in the evolution of avian communication and signaling. Her research to date has primarily focused on working with chickadees and titmice. She finds those species particularly interesting for studying signaling because they are primarily monochromatic in North America, and they have a rather simple, tonal song, in contrast to their very complex call, which has been likened to human language because of its syntactical rules and flexibility. In addition, chickadees in North America are residents and rely on cached food items to survive the winter. These birds are scatter hoarders, meaning they cache their food items throughout the forest and use spatial memory to relocate their caches.

Carrie’s dissertation work focused on Mountain Chickadees (Poecile gambeli) in the Sierra Nevada, which inhabit a continuous montane gradient. Individuals inhabiting higher, harsher elevations cache more food items and perform better on spatial memory tasks, compared to their lower, milder elevation counterparts. 

At the Lab of Ornithology, Carrie will be working with Drs. Mike Webster, Irby Lovette, and Holger Klinck to address the relationship between spatial memory ability, male signaling, and female mate choice. She will continue working with Mountain Chickadees in the Sierra Nevada to assess whether or not male song production and plumage variation reflect a male’s cognitive abilities, and if females choose males with superior spatial memory as their extra-pair mates.

All components of this work, other than analyses, will be conducted on wild chickadees in the field; automated SWIFT recorders will be used to collect song repertoires of territorial PIT-tagged males. Feeder arrays equipped with RFID technology will be used to assess spatial memory, and breeding will be monitored using nestboxes.

Carrie received her Ph.D. at the University of Nevada working with Dr. Vladimir Pravosudov, where she studied potential pre-mating mechanisms that may further enhance or maintain the behavioral separation between Mountain Chickadees inhabiting high versus low elevations. Before moving out west, she received her B.A. from the University of Tennessee, where she studied comparative communication in Parids with Dr. Todd Freeberg, and her M.A. from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, investigating episodic-like memory in rats with Dr. Kate Bruce.

Website: https://carrielbranch.wordpress.com/author/cbranch1987/

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Lilly Briggs

Lilly Briggs

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.

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Adriaan Dokter

Adriaan Dokter

Adriaan is an ecologist with a background in physics, and an interest in animal movement and foraging ecology. His research bridges the disciplines of ecology, computer science, physics, and meteorology, addressing questions about the effects of global change on the distribution and seasonal migration of birds.

At the Cornell Lab of ornithology, Adriaan is studying the migration corridors of small songbirds at the scale of a full continent. A large-scale perspective on population abundances at the scale of continents is still largely missing, but is within reach now, using meteorological weather radar networks in migration ecology and the latest advances in cloud computing technologies. By estimating from radar network data how many birds are moving in and out of large-scale regions, Adriaan aims to understand the drivers of annual patterns in bird abundance, reproduction, and mortality.

After receiving his Ph.D. at the Institute of Atomic and Molecular Physics in Amsterdam, Adriaan has worked on studying animal movement during postdoctoral appointments at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, the University of Amsterdam, and the Netherlands Meteorological Institute. Adriaan has a continuing interest in understanding the role of individual decision making as a constituent of large-scale movement patterns, which he explored in individual tracking studies on Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Eurasian Oystercatchers.

Website: http://www.adriaandokter.com.

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Michelle Fournet

Michelle Fournet

Michelle is a marine ecologist whose research focuses on using passive acoustics to understand communication behavior, and the impacts of marine resource management decisions on underwater ecosystems. She uses long term hydrophone deployments (weeks to years), coupled with behavioral observations and field studies to better understand the marine acoustic habitat, how marine animals use sound, and to investigate human impacts on marine organismal behavior. Her interests straddle bioacoustics, behavioral ecology, and education and most of her current and previous work includes each of these three elements.

As a Ph.D. student at Oregon State University, Michelle investigated the acoustic ecology of North Pacific humpback whales in Glacier Bay National Park, Southeast Alaska. By conducting work in Glacier Bay, a historic whale foraging grounds and a marine protected area with predicable and managed vessel activity, Michelle was able to investigate the impact of vessel noise on calling behavior among humpback whales, as well as investigate drivers of acoustic communication in this species.

Michelle is now applying acoustics skills commonly used to monitor endangered marine mammals to understand calling behavior in sonic fishes in Florida Bay, Everglades National Park. Florida Bay is a large marine estuary historically impacted by hydrological management decisions. Michelle’s work investigates whether sonic fishes can act as acoustic indicators of ecosystem change, and whether community structure and ecosystem health can be monitored through passive listening.

Michelle holds a B.F.A. in theatre arts from Boston University College of Fine Arts, an M.S. in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University, and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Science from Oregon State University.

Website: mfournet.wordpress.com


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Natalia Garcia

Natalia Garcia

Natalia is broadly interested in the evolution of acoustic and visual communication in birds. Particularly, she has studied the effect of morphological constraints in the evolution of communication signals and the evolutionary drivers of sexual dichromatism. She is also interested in studying the relationship between divergent phenotypes and the genetic architectures that generate them, specifically from the point of view of achieving a better understanding of the speciation process.

At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology she will be looking for differentiated areas of the genome between pairs of sister species of Empidonax flycatchers that are phenotypically almost identical yet can be identified by their diagnostic songs. As vocalizations are innate in these species, she hopes to find areas of the genome that are related to differences in their songs.

Before starting her postdoc at the Cornell Lab, Natalia spent two years as a postdoc in the Argentine Museum of Natural History in Buenos Aires. Natalia obtained her Ph.D. in 2016 from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She studied song and plumage color variation in the "blue clade" of the Cardinalidae family (buntings and grosbeaks of the Amaurospiza, Cyanocompsa, Cyanoloxia and Passerina genera). Working in a museum has had a deep impact on her life. Natalia is fascinated by the many interesting questions that can be answered doing collection-based research. But she also really enjoys going into the field, so she tries to integrate both approaches to study different aspects of birds’ behavior, evolution and systematics.

Website: https://nataliacgarcia.wixsite.com/mywebsite 

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Ryan Germain

Ryan Germain

Ryan’s research focuses on understanding the sources of variation in individual life histories, and the consequences of this variation for mating system evolution. To address these questions, he primarily uses longterm field studies to determine the relative effects of environmental, genetic, and among-individual variation on reproductive success, survival, and population relatedness structure.

Ryan’s work at the Lab of Ornithology will involve determining the drivers of selection within populations of migratory songbirds and resident, cooperative breeders. Specifically, he is interested in how broad-scale environmental variation and the quality of a male’s habitat can influence the expression of sexual signals and ultimately promote increased reproductive success.

Prior to joining the Cornell Lab, Ryan conducted postdoctoral work at the University of Aberdeen, investigating the effects of female multiple mating (polyandry) on the potential for inbreeding among her descendants in future generations. Ryan received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia investigating the effects of habitat versus among-individual and genetic variation on measures of fitness in song sparrows, and his M.Sc. from Queen’s University studying delayed plumage and song maturation in American Redstarts.

Website: http://ryanrgermain.wixsite.com/ecol-evol

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Camila Gomez

Camila Gomez

Camila is a Colombian biologist interested in animal ecology, migration, and conservation, particularly the connections among macro-ecological processes and changes in the composition and behavior of fauna.,Her research has centered on the ecology of migratory birds in the Neotropics and on the importance of stopover behavior.

Camila obtained her Ph.D. in 2018 from the Universidad de Los Andes, where she worked with Dr. Daniel Cadena on understanding ecological and evolutionary processes that shape the long-distance migrations of birds.

Through this postdoctoral appointment, Camila aims to better our understanding of the nature and magnitude of changes in avian assemblages from a variety of perspectives and to enhance the Colombian nationwide bird monitoring initiative. To do this, she is following in the footsteps of Frank Chapman. A century ago, Chapman led a group of prominent naturalists on a series of expeditions in Colombia. They collected thousands of specimens and maintained detailed bird records which are now deposited at Cornell, the American Museum of Natural History, and other institutions. Camila will lead an initiative to re-visit those expedition sites in Colombia and to develop methods to integrate historical and current data to evaluate changes in Colombian bird assemblages over the past 100 years.

This highly collaborative endeavor includes the participation from researchers within the Citizen Science, Conservation Science and Education Programs of the Cornell Lab as well as partners in Colombia such as the non-profit SELVA, Universidad de Los Andes, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Cali and the Instituto Alexander von Humboldt.  

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Daniel Hooper

Daniel Hooper

My research interests are focused on understanding the evolutionary significance of chromosome inversions to the process of speciation. Speciation is associated with not just the accumulation of molecular changes but also with regulatory changes in gene expression and structural changes, such as chromosomal inversions–structural rearrangements to the order and recombination landscape of genes on a chromosome. Because the speciation process is protracted, it appears that gene flow among incipient species is common, and often influences the generation of reproductive isolation. Gene flow generally acts to homogenize differences between diverging populations but it can, paradoxically, play a creative role in speciation by promoting the evolution of chromosome inversions that encompass and keep together sets of locally adapted genes. 

Within the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I will be working with Dr. Irby Lovette and the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program in order to examine the interplay between structural and functional evolution throughout the speciation process. I will study divergence in sexually dimorphic gene expression, the large-Z effect, and chromosome inversion evolution using genomic and transcriptomic data from members of the Australian grassfinches (order Estrildidae) with emphasis on the hybrid zone between subspecies of the Long-tailed Finch (Poephila acuticauda). 

While a Ph.D. student in Trevor Price’s lab at the University of Chicago, I examined the evolutionary history of chromosome inversion evolution across the order Passeriformes broadly and at greater depth via a comparative genomic approach in the Australian grassfinches. I found that chromosome inversions evolve often in passerines, more frequently on the sex chromosomes, and appear to be intimately linked with speciation when it occurs with gene flow. 

Website: http://www.danielmarchooper.com

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Kyle Horton

Kyle Horton

Kyle’s research focuses on avian migration systems to answer broad behavioral questions about how migrants orient and navigate to and from their wintering and breeding grounds. His work integrates multiple sensor systems including radar, acoustics, thermal imaging, and citizen-science records. His work to date has examined wind drift compensation, migrant airspace usage, and large-scale phenological patterns of nocturnal migrants.  

No single tool addresses the quantification and identification challenges of sampling inflight migratory movements. Rather, efficient, detailed analysis of large-scale movements is reliant on the integration and contribution of complementary data streams. For example, radar and imaging devices can track nocturnal migration and provide details of in-flight behaviors, yet both are limited in that they cannot confidently provide species identity. The recording of flight calls offers a reliable method for identifying species actively migrating at night. With recent advances at the Lab of Ornithology in the automation of detection and classification algorithms, studies pairing acoustic monitoring with remote- sensing networks like weather surveillance radar are poised to address core migration questions with implications for global conservation. His work at the Lab will take advantage of the vast and mostly untapped resources of acoustic records and weather surveillance radar, to illuminate the composition, timing, density, direction, speed, and altitude of nocturnal movements of migratory birds.

Kyle received a B.S. in Biology from Canisius College in 2011, an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Delaware in 2013, and a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2017.

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Allison Injaian

Allison Injaian

Alli is generally interested in human impacts on birds. Her doctoral research experimentally tested the effects of traffic noise exposure across many levels of biological organization. She found that traffic noise has broad impacts on Tree Swallows, altering habitat use, parental behavior, adult, and nestling physiology, telomere dynamics, and reproductive success.

During her postdoctoral appointment at the Cornell Lab, Alli will expand on her dissertation work by experimentally investigating the effects of exposure to artificial light at night on adult and nestling stress physiology and immune function, in Tree Swallows. This work will be done in collaboration with Dr. Maren Vitousek in Cornell University's Ecology & Evolutionary Biology department. Alli will also continue her work on anthropogenic noise. In collaboration with Dr. Holger Klinck and the Cornell Lab's Bioacoustics Research Program, she is using acoustic monitoring data from "SWIFT" autonomous recordingunits (ARUs) to better understand the potential impacts of aircraft overflights on the timing of vocalizations and habitat use across bird species.

Alli received an M.S. from the University of Michigan in Ecology and Evolution, where she worked with Dr. Liz Tibbetts, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, in Animal Behavior, where she worked with Dr. Gail Patricelli. Through her graduate work, Alli mentored many undergraduate field interns. She found this experience very rewarding and plans to continue mentoring students during her postdoc with the Lab.

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Julian Kapoor

Julian Kapoor

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.

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Favin Leighton

Gavin Leighton

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.

Website: www.gavinmleighton.com

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Russell Ligon

Russell Ligon

Rusty is interested in understanding the causes and consequences of complexity in animal signaling systems. His dissertation work examined dynamic color signaling in chameleons with Kevin McGraw at Arizona State University. He first came to Cornell as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow to work on the unique collection of bird-of-paradise natural history recordings in the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He is currently working on projects to further examine complexity in animal signals in the extreme displays of birds-of-paradise as well as the territory marking and singing behavior of house mice in the Sheehan Lab in Cornell's Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. Website

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Vincent Lostanlen

Vincent Lostanlen

My research interests encompass various topics in audio signal processing, including the connections between multiresolution analysis and deep learning; the development of computational methods for contemporary musical creation and musicological analysis; and the retrieval of bioacoustical and ecoacoustical information in sensor networks.

I am member of the BirdVox team, a group of biologists and computer scientists. My role on this team is to analyze nocturnal flight call recordings of birds flying overhead during fall migration. These sounds are collected by a network of recording units in Ithaca, New York. Analysis produces statistical estimates of migratory activity. Find out more about the BirdVox project.

In addition to my current postdoctoral appointment in the Information Science department of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I am a visiting scholar at the Music and Audio Research Lab of New York University.

I studied signal processing at the Télécom ParisTech engineering school, and hold a joint MSc from Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) and Ircam in Paris. I also studied the upright bass at the Conservatory of the Paris Region. In 2013, I carried out an internship at Inria in music information geometry, under the supervision of Arshia Cont. Then, I went to pursue a Ph.D. at École normale supérieure (ENS), under the supervision of Stéphane Mallat. I defended my dissertation, entitled "Convolutional operators in the time-frequency domain," in February 2017.

As a complement to my research activities, I am a computer music designer for composer Florian Hecker.

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 Shyam Madhusudhem

Shyam Madhusudhana

As a postdoc within the Cornell Lab’s Bioacoustics Research Program, my current work involves developing solutions for automatic source separation in continuous ambient audio streams and the development of acoustic deep-learning techniques for unsupervised multi-class classification in the big-data realm, with focus on efficient utilization of modern computing capabilities in achieving real-time performance.



My research interests have been largely multidisciplinary. In the past, I worked as a Speech Scientist for a leading Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) solutions provider before steering my career into bioacoustics and allied disciplines. My Master’s thesis offered passive acoustic solutions to monitoring free-ranging blue and fin whales in the Pacific Ocean. My doctoral research involved development of solutions for the automation of underwater soundscape assessments.

Prior to joining the Cornell Lab, I had been associated with the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST), Australia (as a Research Associate), National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), India (as a Research Associate) and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER-Tirupati), India (as a postdoctoral research fellow).


I have been actively involved with IEEE’s Oceanic Engineering Society (OES) and currently serve as the coordinator of Technology Committees. I also referee manuscripts for the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and, in the past, have refereed for the Australian Acoustical Society as well.



Aside from professional activities, I enjoy traveling, running, hiking, camping, photography, strumming on my guitar, and playing cricket.


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Vicki Martin

Vicki Martin

Vicki is an environmental social scientist who has spent most of her research career studying people’s perspectives on environmental impact and management issues in Australia and New Zealand. Her research has covered diverse marine and terrestrial environments (such as the Great Barrier Reef, national parks and geothermal vegetation), as well as diverse topics including climate change, natural resource management, and science communication.

Her experiences sparked an interest in citizen science and the possibility for it to deepen the relationship and understanding between science and society. Her Ph.D. research focused on the potential for marine citizen science to increase public engagement in science in Australia (a nation of ocean lovers). The research was conducted at a national scale, using 110 face-to-face interviews and an online survey of 1,145 marine users, to investigate if, why, and how the public wants to become involved in marine research, and the likely outcomes for public engagement in science more broadly. The results showed there is a considerable capacity to increase the number of marine citizen science volunteers, whose future contributions depend on the reduction of particular barriers, the ability of projects to address volunteers’ needs and interests, and improved communication for volunteer recruitment. The study also found marine citizen science is most likely to attract volunteers who are already interested in science, which is important information for the development of public science communication strategies aiming to reach diverse audiences through citizen science.

At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Vicki is continuing her research in citizen science volunteer recruitment and retention. She is very excited to be working with the Lab, using social research to help grow public involvement in scientific research.

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Sabrina McNew

Sabrina McNew

Sabrina is interested in the ways in which parasites and pathogens can affect the behavior, fitness, and ultimately, the evolution of their hosts. During her graduate work at the University of Utah in Dr. Dale Clayton and Dr. Sarah Bush’s lab, Sabrina studied the effects of an introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, on Galápagos mockingbirds. Relatively recent parasite introductions to island systems, such as P. downsi in the Galápagos, provide an opportunity to understand how naïve hosts respond to emerging threats.

As a Rose Postdoctoral Fellow, Sabrina is planning on incorporating genomic approaches to continue studying the effects of introduced parasites on Galápagos birds. In particular, she is interested in investigating the molecular basis of susceptibility to avian pox in Galápagos finches. By investigating the genetic and epigenetic correlates of avian pox infections, she hopes to learn more about host defense and mechanisms that underlie rapid evolutionary responses to a changing environment.

Sabrina loves Neotropical field work and being involved in the communities where she works. Her research is conducted in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galápagos National Park. With the help of these collaborators, she has developed outreach projects with the goal of expanding knowledge about invasive parasites in the Galápagos and techniques used to combat them. She hopes to continue these projects, as well as incorporate other environmental education programs at the Lab of Ornithology into her postdoc research program. Website: sabrinamcnew.com


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Cecilia Nilsson

Cecilia Nilsson

I am a behavioral ecologist, mainly working with flight behavior and bird migration. Migration is a fascinating behavior to study as it requires animals to integrate a complex suite of traits to successfully move across the globe. Migration is also a vulnerable time for many birds, increasing their exposure to different stressors, both natural and man-made. 

During my Ph.D. at Lund University, Sweden, I mainly studied flight speed and drift behavior of actively migrating individual birds in different situations. I used radar to track birds during migration at several field sites in Sweden. By studying their flight behavior during migration in detail I could test hypotheses about the costs and constraints that shape their migration. I held a postdoctoral position at the Swiss Ornithological Institute, Vogelvarte Sempach, where I worked with European weather radar data on bird migration. 

At the Cornell Lab I am doing work to be able to correctly interpret individual tracking studies and make risk assessments and conservation recommendations regarding migratory birds, it is crucial that we understand the large scale behavioral patterns that shape the migration phenomena. I am excited to join Dr. Andrew Farnsworth’s group in studying large-scale migration patterns. We will be combining two state-of-the-art datasets, NEXRAD weather radar data and eBird observations. Weather radar data gives us detailed information about flight behavior over large scales, while eBird provides us with information on species composition and abundance. The combination of NEXRAD data and eBird provides a unique and powerful way to study migratory behavior on a large scale.

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Karan Odom

Karan Odom

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 Cornell. She will be using the Lab’s 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 Cornell Lab of Ornithology.   

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. 

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Mario Pesendorfer

Mario Pesendorfer

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. Website: www.mariopesendorfer.com  

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Orin Robinson

Orin Robinson

Orin’s research focuses on using and developing quantitative tools to learn about population and community level processes in vertebrates, with the goal of informing conservation actions. While his current research is on bird population dynamics, he has conducted research on reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals, too.

The focal species of Orin’s current research is the Tricolored Blackbird. Tricolored Blackbirds are almost entirely found in California, with a small percentage (~1-5%) breeding in Nevada, Washington, and Oregon. Their populations have declined precipitously over the last 80 years. The goal of his project is to understand their habitat associations, movement, and demographic rates throughout the annual cycle. While these are common topics in many bird studies, the nature of the available data and lack of knowledge about many aspects of the Tricolored Blackbird's annual cycle make even this basic information difficult to characterize. Orin will make use of field collected data and citizen science data to understand the seasonal distributions of Tricolored Blackbirds and their demography.

Prior to joining the Lab of Ornithology, Orin received an M.S. in Marine Sciences studying Brown Pelican nesting ecology at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. He received a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in Ecology and Evolution where he worked on simulation modeling of invasive predator management, evaluation of population viability analysis output, and the effects of harvest on sex-changing species.

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Laurel Symes

Laurel Symes

Laurel’s research focuses on the community ecology of communication: the way that interactions within and between species affect when, why, and how signals are produced. To address these questions, she studies a variety of taxa including crickets, katydids, frogs, bats, and birds. Her current research focuses on modeling phenological patterns in bird activity to understand 1) when birds arrive and begin to sing and 2) how the singing activity of one individual influences the singing patterns of other individuals and species across a landscape.

To quantify singing activity, she is using automated recording and machine learning approaches to find and identify bird calls from a network of recorders in the Lab of Ornithology’s Sapsucker Woods and in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire. At the Cornell Lab, Laurel works with Holger Klinck (Bioacoustics Research Program) and Mike Webster (Macaulay Library).

Laurel has held post-doctoral positions at Dartmouth College (Neukom Fellowship), the University of Wisconsin, and the Smithsonian Institute for Tropical Research. She completed her Ph.D. at Dartmouth College and a B.S. in Biology at Denison University.

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Conor Taff

Conor Taff

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 Ph.D. 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.

As postdoctoral scholar at the Lab of Ornithology, Conor will be joining the long running Tree Swallow project to study the way that stressful breeding conditions influence physiological senescence, survival, and stress responsiveness in both nestlings and adults.

Website: www.conortaff.com

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David Toews

David Toews

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.

Website: http://www.davetoews.com.

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Jennifer Walsh

Jennifer Walsh

I am interested in utilizing a combination of genomic and ecological approaches to characterize the drivers of divergence, both within and between species. Most of my research to date has focused on avian tidal marsh endemics. My interest in tidal salt marshes stem from their extreme adaptive challenges and from the suite of conservation challenges associated with these systems. The relatively recent expansion and occupation of coastal marshes provide powerful research opportunities to investigate and test patterns of contemporary evolution. My work largely falls into three broadly overlapping areas: the genomics of speciation and local adaptation, behavioral plasticity in response to environmental variation, and implications of hybridization in natural populations.

Website: jenniferlwalsh.com

 


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