Two big updates from the fall

The big updates from last quarter are probably the following:

1)   I survived teaching my first class- the 175-student Intro to Evolution course here in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis. It was definitely a scramble to get the lectures put together each week, and I can see areas for improvement both for the course content and my teaching style, but all in all I think it went pretty well. At least no pitchforks and torches outside of my office, and reasonably good student evaluations- very few marks below average in any of the categories. Although it really is amazing how much time it takes to outline a lecture and craft a set of powerpoint slides, I enjoyed scouring the web for interesting class examples and media, and I liked the time in front of the class (at least most of the time- 7:30 AM could be rough if I didn’t sleep well or was up late putting the finishing touches on the lecture.

While I’m on this topic, a big thank you to my TAs David Luecke and Sarah Signor, as well as my graders Matt Meisner and Dena Grossenbacher. They did a fantastic job in spite of my having to learn everything from scratch my first time through as a full instructor. I’ve thanked them several times already, but can’t hurt to do it once more.


2)   Gail and I were awarded our second full National Science Foundation research grant on the sage-grouse system this fall! This proposal will fund another 3 years of field studies in Wyoming. The focus of this grant will be to learn more about the foraging ecology of the grouse, and how variation in energy acquisition and off-lek behavior relate to the courtship tactics available to a male while wooing females on the lek. It will extend our use of robots and sound recording by giving us a lot more information on what males are doing in the remaining 21 hours of the day when they aren’t fighting and strutting on the lek.

This project will also include both old and new collaborations. We are welcoming back John Burt (University of Washington) who was a key developer for most of our sound analysis scripts. In the past few years he has turned his attention to creating next-generation telemetry tags for use in animal behavior studies. These Encounternet tags can do amazing things like share interaction histories so when either of two animals gets near a receiving station, it will receive the data from both animals. The tags John is creating for us should have both gps logging capability as well as accelerometers to measure movements (this technology has already been used in other animal systems, such as the mountain lion study out of UC Santa Cruz). Our second collaborator is Jennifer Forbey from Boise State University. Jennifer studies the interactions between sage-grouse and their main food item- sage brush. She will be helping us study foraging success in the grouse, in particular by measuring the suite of secondary chemicals that sage plants produce.

NSF grant in, NAOC poster done

A brief mid-summer update- it has been a busy few weeks after getting back from my Wyoming/Colorado trip at the beginning of July. Aside from the usual manuscript reviews and progress on our own manuscripts, a couple of noteworthy things to check off:

Gail, Anna, and I submitted our latest NSF grant that would fund another 3 years of work on the sage-grouse. We brought on another collaborator: Jennifer Forbey is a professor at Boise State University in Idaho, and is an expert in herbivore/plant dynamics, particularly the importance of nutritional content and plant-produced toxins. With Jennifer on board, we will have a much stronger foraging component to our examination of off-lek behaviors of the grouse (in other words, what they are doing the other 20 hours of the day when they are not courting and fighting on the lek ). I feel like I usually do after writing one of these: exhausted but excited.

I also just finished making a poster for the North American Ornithological Congress meeting next week in Vancouver. I’ll be presenting some new analyses on the lateralization in behavior. Last year I presented on a similar topic at the Animal Behavior meetings, but I didn’t have much time to put together something (I was originally going to present our mechanical sound (i.e. “swish” project), but Becca was able to present this work herself, so I switched to the lateral bias analysis at the moment. This year it was still a rush, but I think we ended up with analyses that better link the existing literature on lateral biases to our own data, and hopefully have results that are pretty close to what will end up in the eventual publications.

The second Summer Session started this week in Davis, so I’m meeting with a few new prospective undergraduate researchers. We’ve made a lot of progress so far this summer- we’ve almost finished measuring mating success from our 2012 Chugwater Lek tapes and have started the Monument Lek mating success tapes. Marty, our summer program intern, has even gotten into the 2012 robot experiment tapes. It’s never good practice to get too excited over preliminary results from partially-collected data, but it does look really encouraging so far (his data look at whether males treated the “coy/disinterested” and “interested” behaviors of the fembot differently). We are also almost done with a sample of display behavior measures from the 2011 season- this will add to our understanding of males who were tested in the “environmental responsiveness” playback experiment in 2011.