Plenary Speakers

Dustin R. Rubenstein

Dustin R. Rubenstein

Assistant Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University
“Environmental uncertainty and the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds”

Wednesday 27 July, 08:15 – 09:30, Grand Ballrooms 1 & 2

Dr. Dustin Rubenstein received his A.B. in Environmental Biology, Environmental Studies, and Earth Sciences from Dartmouth College in 1999. After a year studying the behavior and physiology of marine iguanas in the Galápagos Islands as a Reynolds Scholar, he moved to Cornell University as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellow and received his Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior in 2006. Following a Miller Research Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Department of Integrative Biology, he moved to Columbia University in 2009 as an Assistant Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology. Dustin is a behavioral and evolutionary ecologist who studies the causes and consequences of complex breeding systems in vertebrates and invertebrates. Through his long-term work in African starlings, he seeks to understand how environmental uncertainty shapes individual reproductive decisions and interspecific patterns of sociality by unraveling the interactions among physiology, life history, and behavior at a variety of different levels. Dustin has been a member of the AOU since 1999, and he was the recipient of the 2010 Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award.

Abstract: Family-living, or cooperative breeding, not only occurs in a broad range of avian species, it also varies widely in form from simple to complex societies. Although the inclusive fitness benefits of helping relatives ultimately set the stage for the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds, environmental factors have long been thought to influence the reproductive costs and benefits of helping relatives, as well as the incidence of this behavior across species and regions. Cooperatively breeding birds typically live in heterogeneous environments where spatial variation in territory quality and resource availability can influence reproductive decisions and behaviors. Much of the cooperative breeding research over the past 30 years has focused on the role of spatial variation in resources driving the evolution of reproductive behaviors and decisions. However, temporal environmental variability may also play an important and under-appreciated role in the evolution and maintenance of family-living. I will discuss the diversity of cooperatively breeding species in birds and then examine how both resource heterogeneity and environmental uncertainty influence the evolution of this complex social behavior. I will demonstrate that environmental variability in time and space not only influences individual behavioral decisions, but also broad-scale patterns of social diversity across species and regions. I will incorporate these ideas into a synthetic framework elucidating the role of spatiotemporal environmental variation in the evolution and maintenance of family-living in birds.

Craig Benkman

Craig Benkman

Professor and Robert B. Berry Distinguished Chair in Ecology, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming
“The rise and fall of an adaptive radiation”

Thursday 28 July, 08:15 – 09:30, Grand Ballrooms 1 & 2

Craig W. Benkman is a Professor and Robert B. Berry Distinguished Chair in Ecology in the Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming. Before moving to Wyoming in 2004, Craig was on the biology faculty at New Mexico State University. He was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, completed his M.S with Russell Balda, Northern Arizona University, his Ph.D. with Ronald Pulliam, State University of New York at Albany, and postdoctoral fellowships with Peter Grant, Princeton University, and Dolph Schluter, University of British Columbia. Craig has served on several editorial boards, including Evolution and The American Naturalist, and is now the editor of the Natural History Miscellany section of The American Naturalist. He has published about 75 papers, with a recent focus on coevolution between crossbills and conifers and ecological speciation in crossbills.

Abstract: I will discuss the ecological and evolutionary processes contributing both to divergent selection between crossbill populations and to reproductive isolation (speciation) between call types of Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra complex). Much of the diversification of crossbills is the result of divergent selection for foraging on alternative conifers, however, coevolutionary arms races between crossbills and conifers are also important processes contributing to crossbill diversity. Speciation may occur readily in crossbills once populations begin to adapt to alternative resources, with assortative flocking by phenotypes perhaps representing a critical process for reproductive isolation between widely sympatric populations. I will end by discussing the environmental conditions that may have contributed to the origin of crossbills, and use this to address why crossbills, especially the South Hills crossbill, are declining so rapidly.

Robb T. Brumfield

Robb T. Brumfield

Associate Curator of Genetic Resources, Museum of Natural Science, and Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University
“Antbirds, ovenbirds, and the patterns and processes of biological diversification in South America”

Friday 29 July, 08:15 – 09:30, Grand Ballrooms 1 & 2

While Robb T. Brumfield was an undergrad at Louisiana State University, an inspiring ornithology course by Van Remsen, interactions with a cadre of amazing ornithology grad students, and a semester abroad in the lowland Amazonian forests of Peru opened his eyes to the world of birds and galvanized his decision to pursue graduate school and a career in academia.  Robb received his BS from LSU in 1990, his MS from Illinois State University in 1993 and his PhD from the University of Maryland in 1999.  He served for three years as a NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in Biological Informatics at the University of Washington before beginning a tenure-track position at LSU in 2003 as Curator of Genetic Resources and Professor of Biology.  Over the past 20 years, Robb has conducted a diversity of research projects investigating the contemporary and historical mechanisms of speciation in birds, primarily in the Neotropics.  He has authored or coauthored over 50 papers on avian systematics and population genetics, and he curates one of the world’s largest vertebrate tissue collections which currently houses approximately 60,000 bird tissues.

Abstract: Humid lowland and montane forests in the Neotropics harbor the world’s highest diversity of birds, but significant gaps remain in our understanding of the complex mix of evolutionary and ecological processes responsible for the origin and maintenance of this diversity. Many new insights are emerging from phylogenetic, phylogeographic, and population genetic studies of Neotropical birds.  For example, new molecular phylogenies of ovenbirds (Furnariidae) and antbirds (Thamnophilidae) are leading to radical revisions in taxonomy, the knowledge of which influences our ability to describe biogeographic patterns accurately.  Molecular phylogenies are also illuminating the tempo and mode of these two large-scale Neotropical avian radiations by showing that their net speciation rate has been more or less constant since the origin of these families 30 million years ago.  At a finer geographic scale, comparative phylogeography studies are providing key insights into the role that biogeographic barriers, such as the Andes and Amazonian rivers, played in the diversification and maintenance of lowland taxa.  Looking to the future, emerging DNA technologies that make genomic-scale data collection relatively trivial hold great promise for understanding the historical diversification of birds in the Neotropic