Animal Aeroacoustics Lab

Principal Investigator
Dr. Christopher J. Clark
Assistant Professor of Biology
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Graduate Students
Katie Johnson
Ph.D. Student
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My research interests revolve around the examination of vocal learning in the Costa’s hummingbird. Hummingbirds represent an independent acquisition of vocal learning, a trait found in humans as well as a few mammalian groups and three groups of birds. Vocal learning has not been examined much in hummingbirds, and the Costa’s hummingbird represents a unique opportunity to study many aspects of vocal learning. Costa’s hummingbird courtship involves a song, shuttle display, and an aerial dive. One interesting aspect of the aerial display is that a sound is produced during the dive that is very similar to the song that is sung. This signal matching was described by Clark and Feo in 2010. I intend to examine vocal learning in Costa’s hummingbirds by rearing young males in a controlled acoustic environment and monitoring song acquisition. I will also examine signal matching of the dive sound and song and try to elucidate if young males learn their song by matching the dive sound or if alternatively, males learn to match their dive sound to their song.

Krista Le Piane
Ph.D. Student
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I'm interested in studying the evolution, behavior, and mechanics of silent flight in owls. I am currently analyzing features associated with silent flight in correlation to hunting strategy (prey type, active hours, etc.) using museum specimens. In the future, I will study features associated with silent flight and how they affect the sounds produced by the owl wing.

Brian Myers
Ph.D. Student
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Using a hummingbird hybrid zone between Allen’s (Selasphorus sasin) and Rufous (Selasphorus rufus) Hummingbird, I am studying sexual display behavior of each species across the area of contact and throughout their ranges. My research aims to study how genetics, morphology, and behavior vary across a hybrid zone and to potentially discover the genomic regions associated with a novel, unlearned behavior in Allen’s Hummingbird. To achieve these goals, I conduct field work to record displays, capture the individual performing the observed displays, and perform genetic and morphological analyses to look for correlations between genes in each individual and their phenotype (behavior and morphology).

Sean Wilcox
Ph.D. Student
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I am interested in the role of individual variation in locomotor performance during courtship, and how this might reflect variation in male fitness. Acrobatic courtship displays may advertise quality through demonstrations of challenging whole-organism behaviors (e.g., locomotion [Byers et al., 2010]). Hummingbirds provide an excellent system because they perform aerial courtship displays which seem to push the limits of their flight abilities (Clark, 2009). Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) males perform courtship dives and close-range “shuttle” displays (Feo and Clark, 2010), during which wingbeat frequency increases relative to hovering while the bird agilely flies from side to side within 1 meter of a female (Baltosser and Russell, 2000; Feo and Clark, 2010). My dissertation will investigate the role of flight performance during courtship signaling, and the effect of individual variation of courtship-flight displays on male fitness (i.e., offspring sired) using microsatellite loci for paternity analysis. My research takes place in the lab and in the field around UC Riverside and at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont.

Ayala Berger
Ph.D. Student
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I'm interested in studying behavioral ecology and animal communication. My research centers on the inter-play between sound, behavior, kinematics, and perception. I am currently studying hummingbird hearing and perception and hope to develop methods of studying hearing as well as methods of researching timbre and temporal perception in female hummingbirds. In the future I hope to create an audiogram and a real-time filter that will help us understand what hummingbird females perceive. 


Specialists
David Rankin
Jr. Specialist
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I'm currently working on a range of projects in the lab, ranging from examining hummingbird tail feather shapes to studying birds in the field. This past year I've collecting fecal samples from hummingbirds on the Channel Island to examine seasonal diet shifts, investigated interactions between hummingbirds and invasive Argentine Ants, and conducted a geometric morphometric analysis of hummingbird tail feathers. In the coming year I'll be tracking migratory hummingbirds through California and collecting samples to examine how pathogens are spread at floral resources. 

Emily Mistick
Jr. Specialist
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My research focuses on the relationship between sound production and flight performance in hummingbirds. Currently, I am characterizing the sound radiation of hummingbird tail feathers during males’ diving courtship displays. As the bird reaches high speed at the bottom of a dive, the outermost tail feathers experience aeroelastic flutter producing a loud tonal sound. The sound produced varies with an array of performance variables, and I am interested in the ways in which these sounds are indicators of male fitness. Additionally, I am investigating the low frequency wing sounds that are inevitable products of flapping flight. As an animal beats its wings, air pressure disturbances arise that manifest as sound with the frequency of the wingbeat. I am interested in whether the characteristics of these sounds reflect aerodynamic force production.