My lab is focused on studying patterns and correlates of phenotypic (particularly behavioral) and taxic diversification in birds, with a particular emphasis on passerines (Aves: Passeriformes). The Passeriformes, also known as “perching birds,” are the single largest order of birds, comprising over 50% of avian species diversity. Based on net diversification rate, one subset of passerines—the oscines or “songbirds”—has been identified as the largest radiation of birds. In addition to species richness, this group exhibits a wide array of trophic specializations (e.g., insectivory, carnivory, nectarivory, granivory, folivory), social behaviors (e.g., coloniality, pair territoriality, group territoriality, cooperative breeding), and mating systems (e.g., social—sometimes even genetic—monogamy, polygyny, promiscuity, lekking), making passerine species the subject of voluminous, intensive, long-term research.
Band-backed Wren (Campylorhynchus zonatus) held by graduate student Mike Wells, Cerro Balzapote, Veracruz, México (July 2010).
Wrens are possibly the most ancient oscine invasion of the New World, and are widespread in the region—from the subarctic to Tierra del Fuego—with a pronounced tropical peak in diversity. Most wrens of the genus Campylorhynchus (such as this C. zonatus) exhibit two fascinating behavioral syndromes widespread in tropical members of the family: vocal duetting and cooperative breeding.