I recently completed my PhD at The University of Western Ontario in London (Supervisor: Dr. Elizabeth MacDougall-Shackleton). My research explored the role of preen oil chemical cues and preen gland microbes in songbird communication and mate choice. I tested whether song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) use chemical cues in preen oil (a proxy for body odour) to assess the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genotype and avian malaria parasite infection status of potential mates. I also investigated whether preen gland microbiota are correlated with MHC genotype and preen oil chemical composition.
To assess whether geographically distinct song sparrow populations differ in their MHC-genotypes, parasite communities, preen oil chemistry, and microbial communities, I sampled wild birds at three locations across southern Ontario, and using gas chromatography and molecular genetic tools to characterize preen oil chemical composition, MHC, parasite diversity, and microbial diversity at each population.
My MSc research at McMaster University (Supervisor: Dr. James S. Quinn) focused on acoustic and visual communication in a cooperatively breeding cuckoo, the smooth-billed ani (Crotophaga ani). During three field seasons in southwestern Puerto Rico, I completed research projects on vocal repertoire, referential alarm signaling, and signals of aggressive intent.
My BSc research at The University of Winnipeg (Supervisor: Dr. L. Scott Forbes) explored brood parasitism, brood reduction, and nest predation in red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus).