Patricelli Teaching Award

Congrats to Gail, who won the Faculty Teaching Award at UC Davis earlier this year (this comes on the heels of the Mentorship award she received several years ago). There’s a full write-up here. Many of the best undergrads in the lab first approached us for research because they took her Animal Communication course. Well deserved accolades, Gail!

 

Additionally, check out the new lab web page, which includes some other honors for lab members.

Summer 2016 Undergraduate Research Opportunities

I spend most of my time on this blog talking about the ups and downs of the field research we conduct in Wyoming. None of it would be worth the time and effort if it weren’t for the dedication of many great UC Davis undergraduates who have help advance the projects over the years. As in most years, we have new opportunities starting this summer to help collect behavioral data from the videos of lekking sage-grouse that we recorded in March and April. Note that we hope people will continue with us into the fall and beyond! Keep reading for more information.

If interested, please email me at ahkrakauer [at] ucdavis [dot] edu   and I can let you know when the next information sessions will be.

Our lab is conducting field studies near Lander, Wyoming, focused on the behavior of a threatened bird called the greater sage-grouse.  Our work investigates how females choose their mates, the importance skills and responsiveness during courtship interactions, and what factors (social, foraging) go into the decisions males make when courting females. These studies provide general insights into evolutionary biology, animal behavior, and ecology, and also inform conservation efforts. Specific questions may include determining male mating success, characterizing male and female behaviors and responsiveness during courtship, identifying and analyizing courtship sounds, and measuring how males court a robotic female during experimental trials. Most opportunities we are advertising involve collecting data from video.  Most students begin by collecting data to support one of these larger questions, and may move into more independent projects in the future.

see our websites for more information:
http://patricellilab.faculty.ucdavis.edu/gail-patricelli/
http://www.alankrakauer.org/

Answers to a few common questions I’ve received:

“I don’t have any experience- is that OK?”
**That’s fine. Everyone begins with a training set before collecting data, so no experience necessary. All we require is basic computer literacy (e.g. some familiarity with MS Excel), focus, and attention to detail.

“Can I get paid for this?”
**Unfortunately this is a volunteer opportunity, and not paid.  Course credit is available, however, and we can be flexible as to how it is assigned (for example, if you do not want to pay for research units over the summer, we can keep track of the hours and you can apply them to your research hours during the fall).  One (1) research credit is about equal to 5hr/week during a summer session or 3hr/week during a regular quarter. Transcript Notation requires 40 hours.

“How many hours per week do you need?”
**We ask for a commitment of between ~6 and 15 hours per week.  You will need to dedicate between 2 and 3 hours per session. These hours can be any time Storer Hall is open, which is about 7:30AM until 6PM M-F. Please ask if you anticiapte needing to come in outside of these times.

“What if I’m only here for the summer?”
**While we would prefer students who could join the lab for more than one quarter, you are welcome to contact us if you can only dedicate a single quarter (or summer) to research. Our ability to support this type of contribution will depend on project availability and the number of other students interested in joining the lab. Note that if you are interested in developing more independent projects with us, we do ask for more than one quarter of commitment.

“How do you choose among the applicants”
**So far we usually have been fortunate to accept everyone who was interested in working here; hopefully that will be true this year as well. Most of the positions we offer do not require previous experience. Interest in the subject matter, scheduling, and willingness to work for more than one quarter are all plusses.

“I would like to do a practicum/thesis/honors challenge. Can I do this here?”
**Possibly. We have had a number of fantastic students conduct capstone experiences here in the lab, some of which have led to scientific presentations and journal articles. Often students start on the more general projects and get their feet wet in the lab for one or more quarters before starting a more independent project. If we don’t already know you, then you’ll need to talk to Dr. Patricelli about a more advanced project first. We can not always guarantee that we have an appropriate project available.

We’d like to meet with interested students.  At this time we will give you more details about our overall research projects and where you might fit into this.   In the mean time, can you tell us more about yourself (you may have already told me in your initial email but this will help me organize everything).  Thanks!

Name
Phone Number
Email

Year in School
Major
Relevant Courses

Briefly describe any previous research experience

Briefly describe how this would fit into your long-term goals (grad school, etc)

Can you work both Summer Session 1 and 2?

How many hours/week would you want to work this fall?

Are you interested in continuing to work this winter/spring?

Given the choice, are you more interested in:
Evolution/Behavioral Ecology
Conservation Biology/Ecology

Further Adventures from Laketown

I’m sitting in our main trailer listening to the rain patter down. It is a rainy Sunday, and we are probably ½ of the way done with packing and clean up. Grouse season is over for us. Andre and Jessica have left for their next adventures, and we’ve literally pulled up stakes and folded our tents.

 

It was a fun and productive last week. We got a few days’ respite from precipitation and were able to squeeze in some last experiments for Ryane’s project. The crew also finished their last vegetation sampling day- against all odds they actually completed samples at all eight of our target leks. Gail and Holly Copeland continued their Sisyphean struggle to get useful noise regulations for sage-grouse habitat in place, and spent a day with some Red Desert Audubon folks teaching 4th graders about birds and what it’s like being a sage-grouse biologist.

Castle Garden Eaglet

On the fun side, we watched the sun set from the 360 panoramic view at Nine Mile Hill, made the annual pilgrimage to the petroglyph area at Castle Gardens in the Gas Hills, and watched The Sagebrush Sea on Stan’s giant TV while eating moose burgers and ice cream. It was an epic week for eating, as we also worked in a salmon chowder from Jessica’s cache of Alaskan salmon, dinner at Cowfish thanks to Ryane’s mother Patti (thanks Patti!), and the end-of-season ‘thank you’ dinner from Gail at Svilar’s in Hudson. And one last pan of my famous buttermilk biscuits too!

Cool folks in a cool room on a hot day

 

Cottontail remained an adventure until the end. Experiments on the left (west) side of the lek remained impossible due to the high water level. Even if we could rig Salt and Peppa to be amphibious, the birds in those areas were all forced from their territories. Many of them simply moved away from the water, and we found them squabbling for new territories above the water line. Others disappeared, and one banded male even showed up on the upper lek.

Sage-grouse contemplating his flooded territory

We got GPS points for the stakes we could get to, and even retrieving the stakes was a bit of an adventure!

Ryane wading out into the mucky water to retrieve our grid stakes and signs

 

The high water did lead to some interesting photo opportunities though!

Trailcams are blowing my mind!

Sunset, another time when the grouse may be courting!

I LOVE that I can still be surprised by the sage-grouse even after 10 years out here. Sometimes it is just a matter of luck, as in having a particularly wet spring and seeing Cottontail lek disappear under the rising waters of the reservoir at the far end of the valley.

Sometimes the surprise comes from a change in our perspective– in the tools we use to observe the birds and the questions we are asking. For example, we just watch birds on the lek in the morning. We know the birds typically arrive just as the eastern sky is starting to brighten, and hang out on the lek for some length of time depending on weather, number of females, etc. Then they go foraging. Our assumption was that very occasionally the birds come in at dusk, and we know that typically around the full moon males will congregate on the lek at night and potentially be displaying for much of the night (they often leave earlier in the morning at that time as if they’ve been working hard under the light of the moon). That pretty much sums up our somewhat naive understanding of the timing of sage-grouse lekking activity.

Trailcams allow monitoring around the clock in all kinds of weather

Thanks to five trailcams on loan from Tim Vosburgh, a biologist with the BLM office in Lander, we are now getting a much more systematic view of when males are present on the lek. We will need some time to go through all the thousands of photos we are getting, but we’ve found a few surprising things already:

Two males at Monument Lek already in a territorial dispute at 6PM

1)   Evening lek attendance can begin a lot earlier than we thought. We thought based on a couple of encounters with birds at dusk that males would not come in until well after the sun went down. Not so! We’ve had some really cloudy afternoons and have had males on before 6PM.

Almost all leks had displaying males after 8PM

2)   Evening lek attendance is very common. I just looked through a sample from about a week of activity from three leks, and I think males were present in the PM pretty much every day on each lek.

3)   (Pending more data) Evening lek activity seems pretty synchronized across leks. My suspicion before was that it might be driven by random attendance of a few males that would then spur more males to join. I was expecting to find patterns where one lek would be active and another would be empty. Based on my quick scan through the photos, I think males on leks may be pretty consistent in how they respond to environmental cues such as precipitation, wind, and cloud cover.

This is a very limited sample of leks right now, and mostly around the full moon. Hopefully next year we can start monitoring more leks and start at the beginning of the season.

And for fun, a couple of other lek visitors:

Wet, muddy April. Cottontail disappears!

Ryane dressed for mud

As long-time readers will know, weather is often one of the biggest challenges we face when conducting field studies of the sage-grouse. While a warm, sunny April is more pleasant for us to be watching the birds, it can be tough on the grouse and they tend to get tired and not as responsive. Moderate precip is good for the birds (especially survival and growth of the chicks), but our fembots can’t drive well in the mud and sometimes it limits our ability to even get out to the leks.

 

This April has been schizophrenic, bouncing between 70’s and snow practically every week. It can go from green

to white again in just a day or two.

This week we moved well past “moderate” on the precip scale. A few days with significant rain events, followed by 2 days of snow, have left Government Draw a green mucky mess. Nowhere was this more apparent than Cottontail lek. Set aside that the two-track in was practically a stream. Kira and Jessica showed us photos and videos depicting a lek half-under water. The land on the far left of the observation grid had been claimed by rising water levels. Ryane and I went down in the afternoon to set up a playback experiment for the next day under the assumption that the lake level would have receded somewhat by then. Oh no. Like the old Johnny Cash song, “three feet high and rising”. Some stakes at the front edge of the grid were completely under water, and it looked like dry land extended only a few meters from the sage!

 

There's a lek under there somewhere!

We had been warned about the possibility the entire lower lek might flood, and maybe Gail had even seen this in the 2000’s before Cottontail became a focal lek, but this far exceeds any water level we had seen since 2012.

It is fascinating to see Cottontail this way. Cottontail has a secondary lek center up on a hillside. It appears that extreme weather events push birds up there, and in drier weather with enough grouse they colonize the flat area we consider the “main lek”. These cycles of changing population numbers and disappearing territory must keep both lek areas active.

To add to the surprise, there were 30+ males fully fighting and displaying at a little after 6PM! (it was a gloomy afternoon, and there were hens on in the morning).