Congrats Anna on AmNat Paper

Dr. Anna Perry

A hearty congratulations to Anna Perry, former graduate student in Gail’s lab, for finally seeing the publication of her first major paper from her dissertation.  Check out the July American Naturalist to see the paper and for links to the supplementary materials.

This project started with questions about using the 2nd generation sage-grouse robots to study how males respond to signals of interest or disinterest from females. Our first robot experiments employed a less dynamic robot and we mainly adjusted the proximity to males rather than the robot’s posture or movements. The newer robots that Gail developed with several engineers (Jose Mojica, Scott McKibben, and Jonathan Tran) were more mobile and could simulate pecking at the ground as well as looking around. We anticipated that these simulated behaviors would trick males into thinking we

The journey of this paper started with Anna planning and supervising a series of experiments on the sage-grouse leks in Wyoming, trying test males repeatedly with the robot expressing more or less interested behavior. She also had to design a study to record the behavior of live female sage-grouse to ensure that the movements we had the robot carry out actually relate to live females (this will be a second paper hopefully coming out soon). But in spite of all the work to conduct these studies in the field, and to work with numerous UC Davis undergraduates in the lab to collect data from the resulting video tapes, this turned out to be the quick part of the project.

Anna realized that to really answer questions about how hard a male was willing to work, she needed to rethink how we talk about the sequence of displays that a male sage-grouse performs on the lek. Rather than simply summarizing numbers of struts or simple rates or averages, Anna worked with Richard McElreath and Dave Harris to formulate these bouts of behavior as sequences with probabilities of either continuing in a high-intensity bout or transitioning out of a bout into a rest period (I’m somewhat simplifying here). To write the code to analyze the sage-grouse display data, as well set up simulated data sets to show this technique offer tangible advantages to traditional display metrics, took several additional years! Yes, years!

The result of all this is a published product that is among the most careful and meticulous I’ve ever been a part of. Way to go Anna!

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:

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!

Phone Number

Year in School
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


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.