Research

 

Biomechanics

Flight performance of Turkey Vultures

University of North Carolina

Chapel Hill, NC

A turkey vulture doing what they usually do... gliding lazily.  This one happened to be in Chapel Hill, NC.

A turkey vulture doing what they usually do... gliding lazily.  This one happened to be in Chapel Hill, NC.

Stable Isotope Ecology

Isotopic niches of Cinclodes ovenbirds

University of Wyoming

Laramie, WY

A somewhat damp looking Cinclodes nigrofumosus. This species lives exclusively in intertidal zones in Chile. Photo by Pablo Sabat.

A somewhat damp looking Cinclodes nigrofumosus. This species lives exclusively in intertidal zones in Chile. Photo by Pablo Sabat.

Morphological Evolution

Ecomorphology of Cinclodes ovenbirds

University of Wyoming

Laramie, WY

I am interested in the mechanics, physiology, and ecological consequences of animal movement, and in the interplay between ecology and animal performance.  I enjoy projects that draw from multiple disciplines (morphology, biomechanics, stable isotope ecology, etc.), and feel strongly that such multifaceted datasets are powerful tools with which to approach these questions.  I have a somewhat wandering focus, but my work has generally centered on form-function relationships and niche evolution in birds. 

Most recently, I have been 3-D tracking free-flying turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) across an elevation gradient to investigate how the birds compensate for lower density air at high elevation, and how they respond to variable wind conditions.  This work is still progressing, but the early cliff note seems to be that birds flying at high elevation maintain higher airspeeds than their low-elevation counterparts.

I have also studied morphological evolution in a lineage of South American birds called Cinclodes, and showed that despite being physiologically and ecologically diverse, the species of Cinclodes are morphologically quite similar to each other.  I also used stable isotope analysis to investigate niche evolution in Cinclodes, and found the species that inhabit broader ranges also consumed more diverse resources.  This result provides support for the Resource Breadth Hypothesis, and may be the first application of stable isotope analysis to address a macroecological question.