2016 Field Ad

We’ve now started advertising for our 2016 sage-grouse field season. This year will be a little different from normal. Most relevant to potential applicants, this year the positions will be volunteer only (room and board, but no stipend this year). We are definitely sympathetic to the opinion that all technicians should be paid, and, if possible, paid what their work is actually worth. However, when it comes down to it, the choice to get as much research done as possible on our federal grant, continue supporting the dissertation research of at least one graduate student, and yes, providing training and mentorship to technicians, outweighed the alternative (i.e. the alternative being NOT collecting any new data, running new experiments, continuing to conduct much needed population surveys, etc…).

There is a non-zero cost for technicians to join us this year, although we believe that will generally not be too high, since we do cover room and board, and there’s just not much to spend money on during the normal field season. Thinking about what costs will pop up- any pieces of winter gear not already owned, travel to the site, vehicle insurance, cell phone bills, rent at home, etc. In terms of benefits, the position should include coverage under UC Davis workman’s comp. Additionally, technicians typically receive two certifications- a BLM cert for ATV operation and an animal use certification through Davis. The less tangible advantages: working in a really beautiful place with really fascinating birds, getting trained in new techniques, and (hopefully) earning really strong reference letters. We have (or are currently) working on manuscripts that have had technicians as co-authors (although we can’t promise this), and many of our techs have gone on to great careers in ornithology, graduate school. Two former techs even joined the Patricelli lab as graduate students!

We definitely understand that for some people this isn’t enough to tip the scales, but we do believe that Chicken Camp is still a great place to spend a couple of months!

Anyway, here’s the advertisement [note please direct applications to Ryane this year]:

VOLUNTEER FIELD ASSISTANTS (3-4) needed approximately March 7 through May 5 for investigations of the behavior and ecology of Greater Sage-Grouse near Lander, Wyoming and the scenic Wind River Range. The projects are part of a larger effort in Prof. Gail Patricelli’s lab at UC Davis to understand the environmental and social factors shaping sage-grouse display behaviors- see the following websites for more information (http://www.eve.ucdavis.edu/gpatricelli/) and (http://www.alankrakauer.org).

Assistants will use video and audio recording technology to support an NSF-funded study of courtship dynamics and display plasticity on the lek. Duties include some or all of the following: maintaining camera and acoustic monitoring equipment, observation of basic courtship behavior and lek counts, capture of adult sage-grouse, radio-telemetry, data entry, and some computer and video analysis. Assistants must be flexible in their needs and comfortable living and working in close quarters in a remote field station, and able to work in adverse field conditions (mainly MUD, WIND and COLD).  Work will be daily and primarily early in the morning, with afternoon and night work required as well.

Applicants must have a valid driver’s license, basic computer skills, and have participated in at least one field biology project in the past. Previous experience/certification with off-road driving and/or ATV’s is preferred but not required (uncertified individuals will have the opportunity to get ATV certification in-field). Individuals with previous sage-grouse capture experience especially encouraged to apply. Must be able to show proof of United States employment eligibility.

Assistants will receive food and shared housing, but need to provide their own transportation to Lander and their own personal gear.  Please send a single PDF containing a cover letter, resume, and contact info for two (2) references to: Ryane Logsdon, Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California Davis, One Shields Avenue, 2320 Storer Hall, Davis, CA 95616, or preferably by email to rlogsdon [at] ucdavis.edu.  The positions will remain open until filled, and review of applications will begin immediately.


Laterality paper is out!

Science is sometimes slow- case in point our recently published paper on left-right side biases in social behaviors in the sage grouse. The idea for this paper first surfaced in 2010 at the International Ornithological Congress in Campos do Jordao in Brazil. Gail and I saw a couple of plenary talks related to visual fields and left/right biases. From that we had a year or so of data collection from our videos, then about 2 years of cycles of submitting a manuscript, waiting for reviews, revising, resubmitting, etc etc etc. Feels great to finally have this out!

Thanks again to Emily, Michelle, Jennifer and Tawny who were undergraduates who helped figure out how to sample and measure the side biases, and Melissa (former Masters student) who spearheaded our collection of agonistic behaviors.

Link to paper


Lateral biases in behaviours are common across animals. Greater laterality may be beneficial if it allows for more efficient neural processing, yet few studies have considered the possible importance of indi- vidual variation in lateral biases in wild animals, particularly for social behaviours. We examined lateral biases in lekking greater sage-grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus, a species in which males show lateral orientations during aggressive encounters and courtship interactions. For aggression, we found no sig- nificant lateral bias in fights, but when examining another agonistic behaviour, the side-to-side facing- past encounter, we found a left-eye bias but only in males that successfully mated with females. For courtship behaviour, we found that successfully mating males were more strongly lateralized than nonmating males, but the direction of laterality depended on whether males were using their binocular frontal field (left-eye bias) or monocular lateral hemifield (right-eye bias). Bias depended on social context as well; nonmating males showed a bias in courtship orientation only when far from the female. Our results reveal a complex pattern of laterality depending on the mating success of the male, his behaviour and the social environment in which he is acting. We found support for the hypothesis that greater laterality may be beneficial, although the mechanism for this relationship in this species remains unknown.

Request for Photos

Usually I’m posting my own photos here, but the tables have turned. Gail, Conor and I are finishing up a review paper, and would like some photos of some of the animals we mention in the paper. If you have pretty photos of any of the following (that you’d be willing to donate), please let me know ASAP via email.

Praying Mantis: Pseudomantis albofimbriata

wolf spiders (ideally MALES) Schizocosa rovneri

Either of the following anoles, ideally displaying on a tree trunk
Anolis cristatellus or A. gundlachi

Spotted egg butterfly Hypolimnas bolina ideally flying over a female

calling gray tree frog Hyla versicolor (still Hyla, right?)

International Grouse Symposium: Post-Conference Trip

Olafur Nielsen our guide

It would be a shame to head all the way to Iceland and then not make it outside of the “metropolis” of Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital has two-thirds of the nation’s population, but that’s only 200k people!) Thankfully I was able to spend 4 extra days after the IGS concluded as part of a conference-organized field trip to the north of the country. The trip was led by Ólafur Nielsen who also organized the conference. This probably goes without saying, but while the National Science Foundation did pay for my attendance at the IGS and pre-conference workshop, NSF did not pay for the extra play time (even though this was an actual conference activity with something of a focus on grouse biology).

The scenery anywhere in Iceland is just breathtaking (provided you get good weather). I won’t rehash everything we saw, but I can direct you to a flickr album with some photos from the trip. As with any tour, there’s a balance of getting to spend lots of time in each place versus getting to see many different things. The photographer in me was a little frustrated at times that we were often rushed, but looking back on it I can’t see anything that I would have skipped. Well, maybe the stops at the barren eroded “denuded” areas, but even those were interesting when we got to learn about the somewhat controversial soil conservation programs that were going on.

Rock Ptarmigan

In addition to finally getting to see the “real” Iceland, it was really special to have Oli tell us more about his research on the Rock Ptarmigan and their main predator- the Gyrfalcon. We went to a number of different study sites, including Gyrfalcon nest and roost sites and areas the ptarmigan use during different seasons. We encountered Ptarmigan at several places and got very good looks. They were mostly still in their summer plumage, but were beginning to molt into the white winter phenotype. We also saw 3 or 4 Gyrfalcons during the trip. Not a life bird for me, but definitely a bird that quickens the pulse every time I see one.

The tour included a full 40 folks from the conference. Our apartment during the IGS was a half-hour walk from the conference center– this cut down a bit on the post-conference socializing (for me, anyway). It was great to be able to get to know more people during trip. Wildlife biologists tend to be really fun people, especially when everyone is relaxed in the outdoors!

International Grouse Symposium: Conference

Aurora Borealis seen from apartment

After the workshop was complete, it was time for the main event- the 13 International Grouse Symposium! This conference brings together grouse specialists from all over the globe once ever three years. It’s an interesting interval, for example the Behavioral Ecology meetings are held every other year, while the International Ornithological Congress is every 4th. I suppose three years is a compromise between keeping momentum and maintaining contacts versus making sure there are new stories to tell. IGS had around 150 attendees, mostly from Europe and North America although a few from Asia as well. The next one is planned for Utah in 2018.

The topics on display at the IGS were pretty wide ranging. My talk was pretty far on the basic science/non-applied side (it was on reproductive skew on the leks), but people definitely seemed interested. As we learned from Ilse Storch, head of the red list committee for grouse at IUCN, almost every grouse species is in trouble, and things haven’t gotten better in the past decade. That means most of the talks were management and conservation oriented. There were a lot of really sophisticated spatial analyses dealing with how birds are dealing with changing landscapes. On the other end of the spectrum, there were some presentations on husbandry in some of the most threatened grouse populations. Greater Sage-grouse were probably the most talked about species, and I think more than half of the conference focused on one of the prairie grouse species. Some of the Europeans were heard lamenting “Wow- you guys sure do have a lot of money for research!”.

With such a small meeting spread over three days, there was only one talk at a time. This is in contrast to some of the bigger meetings where you are always missing something because invariably multiple interesting talks are lined up against each other, or the concurrent sessions occur far enough apart it’s not easy to jump between rooms. It was nice to be able to catch everything, and to get to hear some really interesting presentations that I might not normally have gone to.

For what it’s worth, a discussion with Tomas Willebrand convinced me to pick up my twitter and I did a little bit of live-tweeting of some of the talks.  I’m a relatively new Twitter convert, so this was the first meeting I had a chance to do that. It was pretty fun to think of short summaries of the presentations, although I don’t think I was as rigorous as some biotweeps who seem to come up with multiple entries for each and every talk.

The venue was at the Hilton near downtown Reykjavik. One highlight of the conference was an elegant banquet on an island just north of the city, in what was supposedly one of the oldest wooden structures on Iceland.

Taking the ferrry to the conference banquet

Anna, Peter, and Alicia getting entertained by some Dutch researchers

Gail and Marcella showing off their new grouse scarves.

Another highlight was getting to chat with Jacob Höglund, one of the authors of THE book on leks. Very cool to geek out about the differences between Black Grouse and Sage-grouse with one of the giants of behavioral ecology and someone who’s been studying grouse behavior (among other things) for many years.