I received my Ph.D in Neurobiology and Behavior from Cornell University in 2003. I was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Insect Science at the University of Arizona from 2003-2005.
My research explores how individual behavior influences social groups and populations. I use a variety of techniques, including field observations, manipulative experiments, mathematical modeling, and phylogenetic comparisons.
Some of the broad issues I'm interested in include:
Cooperation. Why do animals cooperate? At the individual level, animals can choose to cooperate or behave selfishly. What factors influence that decision? And what are the larger scale impacts of cooperation and conflict?
Communication. Animals communicate a huge range of information: relatedness, sex, quality, individual identity, etc. What are the underlying design principles for these different types of signals? What can signal development and function tell us about the evolution of communication systems?
Currently, my research uses Polistes paper wasps to address these questions. Polistes fuscatus paper wasps use variable facial markings to recognize their nestmates as individuals, much like humans use facial features to identify individuals. In contrast, Polistes dominulus have evolved different visual signals, using black facial spots of varying size and shape to signal quality rather than individual identity. P. dominulus with facial patterns that do not honesty reflect their quality (cheaters) are punished, suffering costly social interactions. Their combination of complex social behavior, visual communication, and adaptability make paper wasps a rich system evolutionary research.