Project Description :
The Nowicki lab studies animal communication and sexual selection from an integrative perspective that includes a wide range of behavioral ecological, neuroethological, developmental, genetic, and evolutionary approaches. Using bird song as a model system, we are interested in how information, in the broadest sense of that word, is used by organisms to maximize survival and reproductive success. Songbirds produce songs in order to repel rivals and attract mates. How well a male sings his song, or the quality of his song performance, is an important factor in signaling his superiority, both in the cost of male aggression and female mate choice. Recent evidence suggests that individuals need to “warm up” before getting to their daily performance height of song quality, much like human singers need to warm up before a performance. Our project will test this hypothesis in swamp sparrows, a species in which we have shown that song performance is important in both male-male and male-female interactions. The student will learn bio-acoustics and analytical computer methods that will be applied to songs recorded in the lab, as well as the broader context of the evolutionary ecology of animal signal evolution. After initial exploration of the data, this research has the potential for expansion into an Independent Study Project in the following semester. Furthermore, although this project involves analysis of existing song recordings, a successful student may become involved in future field projects.