University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
450 Schoolhouse Rd
Johnstown, PA 15904
General Research Interests
My research is motivated by a desire to understand the functional and evolutionary reasons for the behavior of animals. My research has primarily focused on how vocal signals are used in the context of social interactions in animals. My work has been conducted in parrots and corvids, who offer intriguing parallels with human behavior due to their vocal learning abilities and complex sociality. Vocal learning is only shared by a few other groups in the animal kingdom, and much is unknown about how it shapes communication in organisms such as parrots. Much of my work focuses on the fine scale structure of acoustic signals, and how that structure relates to function. To pursue these interests I have researched communication in pinyon jays, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus, yellow-naped amazons, Amazona auropalliata, and budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus.
Opportunities for undergraduate research
If you are a motivated undergraduate at Pitt-Johnstown and interested in the field of animal behavior, then there may be an opportunity to work with me in the lab or field. Current research projects I am engaged in are described below. I am also happy to mentor students on independent research projects related to my areas of expertise.
Individuals in the photo (from left): Leandra Boodoo, Rachel Whalen, Dr. Christine Dahlin, Amy Dundorf, Kelly Nalley and Chelsea Blake
American crow communication
I am beginning preliminary work surveying American crows on the campus of Pitt Johnstown and the surrounding area. American crows are life-long vocal learners who maintain complex social networks, consisting of long-term mates, offspring and neighbors. I will be mapping territories of American crows and recording resident birds to create a lexicon of signal types. This work is aided in part by undergraduates Leandra Boodoo, Kelly Nalley & Derek Scalera.
*If you have seen a crow's nest in the Johnstown area please contact us
West Nile diseaseWest Nile virus (WNV) was introduced in 1999 and spread rapidly across the country, reaching PA in 2000. The costs of WNV on human and animal populations has been enormous, and the full effects on wildlife is not well known. In collaboration with Dr. Jill Henning & the staff of the Powdermill Nature Center, we have surveyed local and migratory bird populations for West Nile disease.
Animal Intervention and Autism
In collaboration with Dr. Sharon Bertsch and Nickole George, I am investigating the effectiveness of animal based interventions on children with autism. This work is being led by a team of undergraduates in the departments of biology and psychology.
9/2012: Awarded mentorship grant for West Nile research & finished sampling with Dr. Henning and Derek Scalera
8/2012: Finished sampling migratory birds at Powdermill Nature Center with Dr. Jill Henning
7/30/2012: Visited National Aviary
6/2012: Visited American crow study site in Ithaca NY with Dr. Anne Clark and students