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

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

Abstract:

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.

Undergraduate Research- Past and Future

First off, I want to announce that the Patricelli Lab is seeking undergraduates to participate in our ongoing sage-grouse research. These will be lab positions on campus involving mainly video analysis of grouse behavior on the leks. We are looking for people starting this summer, and will almost certainly have additional openings in the fall. For details, check out the Undergraduate Research page. If interested, contact me! We will have information sessions starting early next week.

Graduation cap featuring sage-grouse "buttprint", Photo courtesy A. Dirksen

Secondly, a big congratulations to our graduating seniors. This spring we had a particularly big cohort of fantastic long-time lab members who have finished up here at UC Davis. Kira, Amy, and Ayala all presented at the Undergraduate Research Conference at Davis this spring, and Ayala and Ciara gave poster presentations at the prestigious Animal Behavior Society meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. Thanks to all of you, and in particular Ayala, Nicole, Amy, Ciara, and Kira for all your hard work! Best of luck in for the future!

UPDATE: Congratulations to Ciara Main for earning an honorable mention in the prestigious poster competition at the ABS meeting. Great work Ciara and Anna Perry for putting together such a good project and following it up with a winning poster and mastery of the topic.

Banded birds return! 2015 Field Season

In spite of the painful adjustment to getting up hours before sunrise, the past few days have been a fun introduction to the world of the lek. At this point in the season, one of our highest priorities is to get photographs of the males’ tails during display- we use these to help identify each male based on the spot pattern (we call them “buttprints”). We recognize these patterns from our distant overlook hills with a good spotting scope*, and it is possible to get pictures of these with a point and shoot camera or cell phone using the scope. However, we typically take the photos from much closer. It is easiest to do this from the edge of the lek, which means relatively close encounters with the birds. Even our technician who has worked with sage-grouse before hasn’t gotten to see the lek behavior up close, so watching the struts and fights, hearing the grunts, pops whistles, and swishes, is a real treat.

Male helpfully displaying his bands from atop an anthill

Sage-grouse, like most birds, molt their feathers at least once per year. What this means for us is that the buttprint patters we use are only valid for one season, and the next year when the male shows up on the lek, he will have an entirely new pattern. Fortunately, our increased attention to catching and banding the males means we are starting to be able to follow males across years as well. For example, we caught one male “Steve”** in his first year on Chugwater, watched him establish his territory and return for several years, all apparently without mating with a female. This year we’ve had a good number of returnees already from last year’s captures, including males on both Chugwater and Cottontail that yielded a lot of behavioral data last year.

Encounternet male leaving lek

Encounternet male leaving lek- note the antenna extending from his lower back.

While we have had good success finding banded males, our resighting of birds with radiotags seemed less encouraging at first. Several encounternet birds returned but did not seem to have tags, and we were worried that our Teflon harnesses might be prone to falling off sometime during the off season. Eventually we got close up photos during the process of taking pictures for buttprints, and started seeing the antennas sticking out. The good news is the harnesses are still on, and that the males survived and are behaving completely normally. If there’s a cause for concern, it is that after molt, the feathers on the back are going to impair the solar charging of the tag. New tags we put out this spring will work fine this spring, but maybe not as well for subsequent years on the bird unless we can capture the bird again and tuck some feathers under the harness.

Along with identifying the birds, we are moving forward with data collection. If buttprints are Step 1, then getting the grid of survey stakes is Step 2. As the weather warmed and the snow melted, it was easier to get to Chugwater Lek, so that was our first target. The key is not only to get the uniform 10m spacing of stakes, but also to make sure the stakes are arranged in a way that makes hill observation and data collection from the video as easy as possible. Once we get the first square as square as possible, then it is easy to build out from that by sighting along the rows of stakes, checking 10m spacings as we go. Chugwater always seems to be really muddy when we lay out the stakes. The road to Cottontail was pretty bad, and we didn’t make it down until yesterday. Cottontail Lek is much bigger, and we ended up with probably ~100 stakes in the grid there!

Cottontail, now with grid!

Finally, the crew is starting to get used to the spatial mapping of the birds. We all went up to the Chugwater overlook once the grid was up to practice. Our “base” data collection is therefore in place- pretty happy to have that done relatively early in the season. Next up will be setting up the microphone arrays, capturing some birds and getting the position and movement data from encounternet, and hopefully some early-season robot experiments to form the basis for understanding seasonal changes in effort.

Chugwater hill blind at dawn, waiting for the stakes and birds to become visible.

Chugwater Lek view from the overlook hill

* We have had very good luck with Alpen brand scopes. Very nice quality for the price.

** In the field, we name birds based on their tail feather patterns, or other silly names. This seems to make learning the birds much easier on the field technicians. When our undergraduates collect behavior data back in the lab, we only refer to them by their number, so there’s no chance of biasing our data collection based on the name the male was given. Also, we have not seen Steve yet this year.