Click on the above tags to see details from the specific research programs.
I take a two-faceted approach to study social behavior. The first part of the research program includes the investigation of dynamics of social patterns at the large scale, in groups where animals are allowed to determine for themselves what social stimulation is important. Here insights can be gained about patterns of information flow at higher levels of social organization. Second, I explore in detail the rules of interaction observed at the large scale on an individual level (the level at which selection is operating). Here I use controlled lab experiments and computer modeling tools. These two approaches are integrated and reinforcing, with discoveries at one level providing insights to behavior at another. My work always focuses on functionally important behavior using development, perception, cognition, and physiology to discover the properties of what it means to be social.
Experiments & Modeling : Upon completion of the laboratory at Penn, group modification studies as outlined on the cowbird research page will continue, where groups are modified based on ecological variables found in cowbirds' natural environment. In addition, I will be implementing agent-based modeling simulations to test the rules of social interactions that are being derived from the aviary experiments.
Developmental Genetics: I plan to implement a system that has been used successfully in developmental studies of plants, insects, and tissues to see if it can be a productive tool for studying social development in cowbirds. The basis of this idea involves characterizing the variation in an organism's ontogeny in response to variation in the environment to understand how selection acts on development. I have recently developed a method to hand-raise baby cowbirds from the egg. Having the ability to (1) generate multiple different social environments across development, (2) draw on a detailed library of longitudinal measures of social behavior for all subjects, and (3) have access to the entire reproductive outcome of individuals in each group, provides me with a unique opportunity to characterize the process and product of social development and social evolution.
Robotics: I recently have begun to design and to build robotic animats. By using robots to interact and respond to live birds in aviaries, I can test hypotheses derived from the results of the aviary experiments about how mechanisms of social interactions impact the development of courtship behavior.