My students and I do research on a variety of questions linking ecology, behavior, genetics, and evolution. While birds feature prominently in our studies, hypotheses drive what we do, and my students sometimes work on other systems. We are opportunistic and integrative when pursuing answers to compelling questions, and we benefit greatly from working with each other, from colleagues at Kentucky, and collaborators around the world.

Integration of Plasticity and Personality

 

The main project in the lab right now, funded by NSF, seeks to understand the biology of variation in parental care when the environment is stochastic. Care behavior is expressed each time a parent comes to the nest with food. This means there can be differences between individuals in mean levels of care (personality), changes in care as conditions change (plasticity), and differences between individuals in how they respond to changing conditions. We are interested in the links between these, perhaps mediated by levels of corticosterone and prolactin. But, because the location of particular food items is not known exactly when a parent leaves to get food, a major component of variation in care is stochastic, and we are using relatively new statistical models to explore individual differences and plasticity in stochastic (residual) variation. We hope to test whether parents are assessing stochastic variance and managing it in predictable ways. 

 

To learn a bit more, check out a University news blurb on the project.

Research

Current Projects

 

Reproductive Performance

 

We have been studying house sparrows in one location since 1992. The resulting long-term database is being used to address a large number of questions about the ecology of reproductive performance. As an example, we did a major analysis (paper just accepted in the Journal of Animal Ecology) of clutch size variation within and among 8 populations of sparrows, including our data form Kentucky. This analysis examined within-individual plasticity over all the clutches known females laid in their histories. We  assessed among individual and among population variation in reaction norm attributes using hierarchical models. We've done similar analyses with hatching success on just the Kentucky population (Journal of Avian Biology), and many other types of analyses using this long-term database will be done in the near future.

Reproductive Performance

We have been studying house sparrows for 21 years. This long-term database will be used to address a large number of questions about the ecology of reproductive performance. As an example, a paper we did (just accepted in Journal of Animal Ecology) on a major analysis of clutch size variation within and among 8 populations of sparrows. This examined within-individual plasticity but assessed among individual and among population variation in reaction norm attributes using hierarchical models.

the DAVID F. WESTNEAT lab

David F. Westneat| Tel 01 859 323 9499 | Fax 859 257 1717 | david.westneat@uky.edu