Program and Agenda

Plenary Sessions

There will be a plenary address, followed by society business, each morning 23-27 September in the Reusch Auditorium, adjacent to the dining hall. On Friday morning, the plenary time slot will be devoted to presentations of the 2014 winners of the Cooper Ornithological Society’s Young Professional Award. The three invited plenary speakers this year are:

Alexander V. Badyaev, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona USA

Dr. Badyaev’s innovative research examines mechanisms of inheritance and developmental biology to understand response to selection, with specific focus on the origin of adaptations.  His work has explored adaptation and evolution in birds with respect to plumage colors, the interaction between epigenetic and genetic inheritance, the role of stress in evolution, behavioral and life history strategies, and sexual dimorphism.  Alexander Badyaev received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mathematical Biology and Comparative Anatomy and Population Ecology, respectively, from Moscow State University;  M.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Arkansas;  and, Ph.D. in Organismal Biology and Ecology from the University of Montana. In 2002, he joined the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona as an Assistant Professor.  Dr. Badyaev has been widely recognized for his research contributions; among his achievements, he was elected as a Fellow of the AOU in 2009, a Packard Fellow in Science and Engineering in 2005, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012, and as a Kavli Foundation Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013. 

Presentation: Colors of the Past: Can ancient metabolic pathways direct contemporary avian color evolution?

Abstract: Essentially all known genomic and metabolic elements that make birds birds, have originated outside the context of avian evolution such that the tremendous phenotypic diversity in avian form and function is produced by rearrangement and differential expression of these elements. We routinely use the well-known discrepancy between genomic and phenotypic evolution to uncover correct historical relationships between phenotypically convergent species. A less common approach is to see how the legacy of such ancient “non-avian” acquisitions has biased evolution of birds. For example, is avian carotenoid-color diversification directed by the structure of a carotenoid genomic network that evolved in the context of bacterial diversification, has remained virtually unchanged since, and was fully in place a billion years prior to the origin of birds? What fraction of this network has already been explored in avian evolution? Are birds less diverse in color now than in the past? What fraction of this color space or combination of its elements are inaccessible to birds? And what would the avian world look like if such constraints did not exist?  

Susan M.  Haig, Ph.D., Supervisory Research Wildlife Biologist, USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Professor of Wildlife Ecology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon USA

Dr. Haig’s research interests are broadly within the fields of conservation genetics and the ecology, behavioral ecology, and population biology of species at risk, especially shorebirds.  Her specific interests include the population genetics and demographics of small populations, impacts of environmental stressors such as climate change on population persistence, and the conservation implications of avian population movements and dynamics.  Susan Haig received her B.S. degree in Biology from Northland College and her Ph.D. in Biology from the University of North Dakota.  She spent the next two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, and continues her affiliation as a Research Associate.  In 1989, she became Assistant Professor/Assistant Wildlife Unit Leader at Clemson University; and, in 1994, she moved to her current position at Oregon State University.  In 2011, she received the Loye and Alden Miller Research Award from the Cooper Ornithological Society, which recognizes lifetime achievement in ornithology, and has served as president of the American Ornithologists’ Union since 2012.

Presentation: Avian Conservation Geneticists: A Jack of All Trades, A Master of …Pretty Many!

Abstract: This century’s explosion of molecular technology has thrown down the gauntlet to avian behavioral ecologists, landscape ecologists, toxicologists, policy-makers, and other scientists not traditionally aligned with molecular biology in a challenge to use these new tools to answer questions previously unattainable in their field.  As conservation geneticists, we tap into many of these fields to address the ever-changing and always critical questions related to conservation of endangered birds. Therefore, at the beginning of a study, and often to assist U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their evaluation of how to list a taxon under the ESA, we assess taxonomic units. Most recently, we examined whether Micronesian Kingfishers (Todiramphus cinnamomina) from Guam, Pohnpei, and Palau were a species or subspecies before translocations plans are implemented. We also need to know a species history. Thus DNA from museums skins have shown us that there was more genetic diversity in Least Terns (Sternula antillarum) 60 years ago than in the 21st century. We found significant recent population bottlenecks in Northern Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) and the decline in California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) was so fast that they did not suffer from population genetic differentiation. Understanding a species relationship to the landscape helps prioritize management actions.  For example, using circuit theory to examine dry tropical forest fragmentation in Brazil’s Cerrado region and genetic structure in Pfrimer’s Parakeet (Pyrrhura pfrimeri) lead us to warn managers of the speed of the species decline.  In our Great Basin work, we are using molecular markers to predict changes in waterbird food distribution across the region as a result of changing climate.  Our work is not complete unless we take the broadest view possible and understand the migratory connectivity of a species ( A good example is our Dunlin (Calidris alpina) study where we have developed genetic markers so we can now tell people in California when birds carrying a disease from Asia are on their way. Hopefully, it is clear that conservation geneticists need many skills in addition to molecular expertise. A well-rounded education in ornithology can provide these tools.

H. Grant Gilchrist, Ph.D., Research Scientist, National Wildlife Research Centre, Environment Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Adjunct Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada

Dr. Gilchrist leads multi-disciplinary research programs which investigate the behavior, demographics, migration, and distribution of Arctic seabirds, particularly in relation to perturbations such as disease and climate change.  Several of his projects focus on seabird harvest by Aboriginal Peoples and include collaboration with First Nation organizations in order to devise conservation and management strategies that incorporate both sustainable harvest levels and Aboriginal traditions.  Grant Gilchrist received a B.S. (honors) in Biology from Trent University and his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of British Columbia.  After completing his doctorate, he was hired by Environment Canada.  In addition to his adjunct appointments, Dr. Gilchrist is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of New Brunswick.  He is the current Chair of the Circumpolar Seabird Expert Group under the Arctic Council’s umbrella biodiversity organization, Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF); a member of the Sea Duck Joint Venture Scientific Technical Committee; and, chair of the Northern Studies Trust Committee. In addition, he is co-chair of the 2014 Sea Duck Conference, which will be held in Iceland.

Cooper Ornithological Society Young Professional Award Plenary Speakers

Conor C. J. Taff, Ph.D., USDA NIFA Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology, University of California-Davis

Dr. Taff studies the expression and evolution of sexually selected signals from an integrative perspective. His dissertation research focused on multi-modal signaling in a population of individually marked Common Yellowthroat warblers (Geothlypis trichas). Dr. Taff investigates both the proximate and ultimate factors that control the physiology of signal production and influence selection on signaling traits. His analyses of signal production and survival—coupled with oxidative stress and telomere dynamics—link signaling directly with life history evolution and senescence. Conor Taff received his B.A. in Environmental Sciences from Skidmore College in 2005 and his Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from the Department of Evolution & Ecology at the University of California—Davis in 2013. For his postdoctoral research, he is currently studying social behavior and disease transmission in wild American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos).

Presentation: Sex, Signals, and Senescence: Telomere Dynamics and Oxidative Stress Link Ornament Expression to Survival and Lifetime Reproductive Success in the Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis Trichas)

Abstract: In order for receivers to continue responding to sexual signals, signals must be honest on average, suggesting that some mechanism prevents signalers from cheating. For species that breed over multiple years, physiological aging processes—such as accumulated oxidative damage and telomere erosion—may ensure signal honesty by enforcing a trade-off between investment in sexual displays and investment in longevity. Much recent attention has focused on the way that signal investment alters oxidative metabolism by increasing the production of reactive oxygen species or by decreasing oxidative defenses. Similarly, telomere erosion has been a recent focus of evolutionary ecologists studying life history tradeoffs, but no study to date has demonstrated a link between signal production and telomere dynamics. My collaborators and I have previously shown that, in Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas), oxidative damage to DNA is related to both plumage coloration and overwinter survival and that these same plumage measures are related to within and extra-pair reproductive success. Here, we show that plumage coloration also acts as reliable signal of the rate of telomere erosion between years. Males that achieve bright plumage in their first breeding season have longer telomeres and lower rates of telomere erosion than dull males. Although dull males typically achieve brighter plumage in their second breeding season, changes in plumage brightness and relative telomere length are negatively correlated, suggesting that investment in sexual signals is costly for these males. Our findings provide a foundation for understanding the maintenance of sexual signal honesty by considering trade-offs between signal production and cell-level processes that can influence aging and reproductive senescence.

Mary Caswell Stoddard, Ph.D., Junior Fellow, Harvard Society Of Fellows, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Dr. Mary Caswell Stoddard uses a multidisciplinary approach to explore key questions in evolution, behavior and sensory systems, emphasizing avian vision and communication. As an undergraduate at Yale University, she investigated avian color vision, devising a color quantification tool called TETRACOLORSPACE. For her Ph.D. research at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Stoddard combined techniques from sensory ecology, computer science and engineering to study the evolution of avian egg coloration and structure. In particular, Dr. Stoddard investigated the Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of unrelated species. With colleagues, she has developed new methods for quantifying pattern and color mimicry, including a novel pattern recognition tool, NATUREPATTERNMATCH, to determine how host birds recognize their own distinctive egg patterns. At Harvard University, Dr. Stoddard is currently pursuing interdisciplinary work on the genomic and structural basis of eggshell evolution.

Presentation: Avian Vision and the Coevolution of Bird Eggs: Cuckoo Mimicry and Host Defenses

Abstract: Coevolutionary arms races are a powerful force in evolution, and brood parasite-host dynamics provide a key example. Different host-races of the Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, lay eggs — which are often mimetic — in the nests of other species. Most studies of egg mimicry focus on subjective human assessments, which fail to account for avian vision. Here, my colleagues and I develop new techniques for quantifying egg pattern and color mimicry by Cuckoos, revealing that mimicry is better when hosts show strong rejection. Once Cuckoos evolve mimicry, can their hosts fight back by evolving highly recognizable signatures on their own eggs? We introduce a new computer program, NaturePatternMatch, which approximates visual and cognitive processes involved in recognition tasks. Hosts subjected to the best Cuckoo mimicry have evolved highly recognizable egg pattern signatures as a defense. Overall, these findings reveal new insights into the complex coevolutionary interactions between Cuckoos and their hosts. Our approach combines behavioral ecology with new tools from sensory biology and computer vision and can be applied to diverse studies of visual signaling and recognition in the animal world.