Current Research

Our research focuses on the behavior, evolution and conservation of birds

Immune Genes in birds

One leading hypothesis for extrapair mating is that females mate with more healthy and vigorous males because their offspring will inherit superior immune genes. The search for these ‘good genes’ has led us to the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), which encodes antigen receptors.

MHC genes are highly duplicated and difficult to study in birds. Our lab has been one of a handful that has been able to successfully study the effects of sexual selection (Dunn et al. 2014, Whittingham et al. 2015) and demography (Eimes et al. 2011, 2013) on variation at the MHC. Our results provide some of the most compelling evidence to date for a role of good genes in extrapair mate choice.

Sexual Selection in birds

We study sexual selection in birds from the level of ornament production (transcriptome analysis of developing feathers) and individual reproductive success to large-scale comparative analyses of selection on plumage color.

In particular, are ornaments physiologically costly to produce? What are the large-scale evolutionary patterns of plumage evolution?