My research resides at the intersection of conservation, animal behavior and communication, landscape ecology, and community ecology. I want to know how wildlife responds to a changing landscape and human management, and how these responses are mediated by community interactions and the use of personal and social information. Utilizing experimental, comparative and modeling approaches, we can develop an understanding of the patterns and processes that underlie wildlife response to landscape change.
- Avian nesting ecology, plasticity, and evolutionary life history strategies
- Community interactions, composition, and biodiversity
- Mammalian populations and communities, camera trap research
- Sociological drivers of landscape and habitat change
- Noise pollution effects on animal communication
- Trophic interactions and habitat use across urbanization gradients
- Spatio-temporal trends in species abundance, richness, and composition in response to landscape change
- Research design in applied ecology, employing experimental methods in an active adaptive management framework
Follow my research:
Fear, Parental Behavior, and Community Structure in Residential Lands
This project is a collaborative effort with Neighborhood Nestwatch, a citizen-science program that involves homeowners monitoring backyard bird nests and reporting data. Neighborhood Nestwatch is administered through the U.S. Forest Service and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. A short abstract on the research is below:
In an urbanizing world, residential lands present an opportunity for conservation of biodiversity right in our backyards. Informed conservation necessitates a mechanistic understanding of how development influences animal populations and communities. Birds nesting in residential lands are less productive in urban yards than rural yards. Urban yards also have higher densities of potential predators, but lower per capita predation, indicating that direct predation is not entirely responsible for lack of productivity. I suggest that fear effects, also known as non-lethal effects, could be a mechanism by which predators exert indirect influence on bird parental behavior and nestling condition in urban yards. I investigated how fear of adult-consuming predators interacts with urbanization to affect parental behavior and nestling condition in residential yards across an urban gradient in western Massachusetts. We conducted a predator playback experiment on nesting house wrens (Troglodytes aedon), measuring nestling condition and parental behavior. We found that nestlings exposed to predator playbacks and in urban yards had reduced mass compared nestlings exposed to control playbacks and in rural yards. To varying degrees across the gradient, predator playbacks suppressed provisioning rates and brooding durations. Nestling age, clutch size, habitat structure, and microclimate were also related to provisioning rates and brooding durations. In an associated study, we examined the relationship between landscape-scale and parcel-scale features and mammal community structure by deploying camera traps in the same yards. Many mammal species are potential nest and/or adult-consuming predators of house wrens, so changes in the mammal community could alter trophic dynamics and influence fear effects across the gradient. Mammalian community composition varied significantly across the urban gradient, and species richness responded non-linearly to urbanization, with peak richness in the suburbs and in yards with larger mean tree diameters. These results, coupled with fear’s influence on bird parental behavior and nestling condition, highlight the importance of considering both direct and indirect effects of trophic dynamics in urban systems.
Undergraduate intern Kaleigh Keohane produced an informational video about my research and the current avian research occurring in the Warren ecology lab.
Undergraduate and dual journalism and environmental science major Kaleigh Keohane worked on an high-production informational video about research in the lab, including on my current House Wren project. She filmed throughout the summer of 2017, and completed the editing process by the end of the year. Check out the video below to learn about the exciting research in the Warren lab!
Video created, produced, and edited by undergraduate intern Kaleigh Keohane.
Master’s Thesis Research
When the birds go unheard: Highway noise disrupts information transfer between bird species
Grade A.M., Sieving K.E. 2016. When the birds go unheard: Highway noise disrupts information transfer between bird species. Biology Letters 12: 20160113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2016.0113
Link to paper here.
Highway infrastructure and accompanying vehicle noise is associated with
decreased wildlife populations in adjacent habitats. Noise masking of
animal communication is an oft-cited potential mechanism underlying
species loss in sound-polluted habitats. This study documents the disruption
of between-species information transfer by anthropogenic noise. Titmice and
chickadees broadcast specific calls to alert kin of predator threats, and sympatric
vertebrates eavesdrop on these alarm calls to avoid predators. We
tested if tufted titmouse alarm call eavesdropping by northern cardinals is
disrupted by road noise. We broadcast recorded alarm calls to cardinals in
natural areas near and far from highways. Cardinals reliably produced predator
avoidance responses in quiet trials, but all birds in noisy areas failed to
respond, demonstrating that highway noise is loud enough to disrupt this
type of survival-related information via masking or cognitive distraction.
Birds in family Paridae are abundant, highly social and vocal residents of
woodlands across the Holarctic whose alarm calls are used by many species
to mediate predation risks. Our work suggests that communication network
disruption is likely to be widespread, and could help explain the pattern of
reduced biodiversity near roadways.
Funding Sources and Support:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant # 451512), Graduate Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Graduate School at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Animal Behavior Society, American Ornithological Society, Blodget Fund for Ornithological Studies, and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.
Master’s Thesis Research
The material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under grant no. 1315138. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.