My work uses a model avian species, the Tree Swallow (Tachycienta bicolor) to investigate differences in prey availability and prey consumption by Tree Swallows nesting in artificial wetlands. I study shifts in insect phenology and reproductive timing of Tree Swallows. I am also interested in understanding whether differences in prey availability are reflected in Tree Swallow foraging behavior and parental care.
My graduate student, Ty Basinger and I are working with Dr. John Hranitz to compare the DNA fingerprints of Tree Swallow chick feces to DNA fingerprints of insects at our sites. This should allow us to identify whether Tree Swallows select specific prey species to feed their chicks.
Undergraduate, Gabby Leonard, and I found differences in the sizes and types of feathers used in Tree Swallow nests across our sites. However, we found no differences in total feather number or total feather area suggesting that Tree Swallows may build their nests with a specific feather area to volume ratio.
I expanded the project to collaborate with Dr. Leslie Clifford at Mansfield University and with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Blue Marsh Lake. We investigate patterns in Tree Swallow nest feather use across sites that differ with respect to habitat type (wetland vs riparian).
In the future, we will include other species that use feathers in their nests such as Carolina Wrens (Thyrothorus ludovicianus).
Prior to arriving in Pennsylvania, my work focused on quantifying the effects of eutrophication in coastal ecosystems. My doctoral research evaluated thresholds of macroalgal abundances on benthic community structure and the effects of macroalgal blooms on shorebird foraging behavior. As a postdoc with Peggy Fong of UCLA and Martha Sutula of SCCWRP, we expanded my macroalgal threshold research and proposed Nutrient Numeric Endpoints for macroalgae.
My postdoctoral work in the Florida Keys evaluated nutrient enrichment in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge and the role that tides have on habitat availability for wading birds. I worked with an incredible team that included Dale Gawlik, Leo Calle and Laura Herren.
After Florida, I was fortunate to become an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellow (ORISE) with the Environmental Protection Agency. Mentored by Cheryl Brown and Ted DeWitt, I evaluated the mechanisms behind nonpoint source management and the successful reduction of eutrophication in coastal estuaries.