Overview

My lab is engaged in why organisms look and act the way they do. How and why do particular traits evolve, and how is this related to the role those traits play in the lifestyle of an organism in its environment? I would consider this the central question of evolutionary ecology, a field which has been at the heart of biology ever since Darwin raised the question and proposed natural selection as a general answer. In much of my research I start addressing this question by looking at specific cases, often in birds but also in humans. Sometimes the initial questions can be very basic: How do swamp sparrows learn their songs? How does an African weaverbird defend itself against a cuckoo that lays eggs in its nest? Why do some birds lay blue eggs? In order to answer such questions I use a variety of methods including field observations and experiments, molecular genetic analyses, examination of museum specimens, and laboratory studies of captive birds. I then use the results of these studies to test general hypotheses about the evolutionary process, with the goal of developing and refining theory. Usually the results lead to as many further questions and hypotheses as they do conclusions and insights.

The links below lead to summaries of current and recent research projects and sketches of plans for the future. At the bottom of this page is a list of some short-term or back-burner projects.

Brood parasite - host coevolution in weaverbirds
Development and evolution of bird song learning

The ecology and evolution of egg color in birds

Relaxed selection and trait loss in evolution
Cultural evolution
Ethics and the philosophy of biology
Human social evolution: the prehistory of morality and religion

 

Other projects

Over the years I have undertaken or participated in several other writing or research projects. Most of these are small-scale and represented by a single publication (*for which see my publication list) but some are unpublished or unfinished. Some of these are just waiting for the right student or collaborator! Please contact me if you think you might be either.