My major area of interest is animal behavior and cognition. I am studying the ecological and evolutionary implications of consistent individual variations in behavior, called behavioral syndromes or personalities. Additionally, I am interested in questions related to problem solving and cognitive abilities in animals, as well as understanding the role of urbanization in shaping ecological interactions. I find the intersection between cognition and personality to be fascinating, and I hope to work on projects like this in the future.
Behavioral syndromes in the Caribbean Hermit Crab (Coenobita clypeatus)
This project was an undergraduate independent study and the manuscript is (still) in preparation. I studied hermit crabs to see if they exhibited consistent individual variation in behavior across time and situations; essentially, animal personality. I had hoped to perform cognitive tests as well, but there are very few studies published with these kinds of tests for invertebrates and I was unable to food motivate the crabs. This project is where my interest in animal personality and cognition began.
Behavior and diet of Peromyscus mice along a range expansion gradient
The first two months of my masters program were spent at a field station, where I worked on this project. Due to climate change, the ranges of Peromyscus mice are rapidly changing. I used stable isotope analysis on hair samples from mice trapped in different locations across Michigan. Additionally I did isotope analysis on insects and plants they commonly feed on, and by mapping the two together you can determine the diet of the mice. This data was then coupled with behavioral assays to look for differences in behavior and feeding niches at the edge of the range expansion. I will be presenting this research at the 2019 SICB meeting.
Behavioral syndromes in fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) along an urbanization gradient
Image Description: A small fox squirrel is crouched on a sloping tree branch, staring into the camera. The squirrel has ear tags with bright green pieces of pipe cleaners wrapped around them.
For my masters thesis, I wanted to better understand the animal-environment interface in urban settings and the role this plays in shaping personality traits in squirrels. I spent this past summer (2019) out in the field with my amazing research team catching, tagging and studying the squirrels living in and around Ann Arbor MI. We had 9 field sites with varying levels of urbanization, characterized by overall human activity and population density mapping. We examined four behavioral traits – boldness, aggression, activity and exploration – using a series of behavioral trials, and the goal is to compare he results not just between individuals but between sites and the different types of sites we worked at (urban, suburban, rural). I am just getting started with the data analysis right now and while we had many challenges this summer, these animals are so cool to work with and I am really excited to see what we might find.