Migratory Birds and Disease

Climate change and land-use change are both responsible for an increasing risk of disease in both wildlife and human populations. My research investigates the impact of both of these factors on the disease ecology of the Pine Siskin, a small songbird normally found at high latitudes and high elevations. Irregularly, this species exhibits irruptions, where large numbers of individuals migrate to low latitudes and elevations in response to poor environmental conditions. Often, outbreaks of disease among birds, domesticated animals and humans occur during these irruptions – particularly Salmonellosis – likely because irruptions concentrate large numbers of immunologically-stressed birds into small, urbanized habitats. This research, funded by a NASA FINESST fellowship, will investigate the environmental drivers of irruptions and the impact of urbanization on disease outbreaks. In the future, this research could help develop tools to predict outbreaks among birds, livestock and humans.

Modeling Migratory Movement

Researching questions that rely on understanding the movement of individual migratory birds is difficult because of the incredible diversity of migratory behavior across and within species. One of my projects is focused on creating individual-based models to simulate the movement of birds across time and space. These computational models can then be used to investigate applied questions - like predicting where ticks that attach to birds are likely to be dispersed. Guess what species is modeled here!

Understanding the Causes of Avian Vagrancy

Vagrant birds are individuals that are rare in either time or space. These birds often attract a lot of attention from the birdwatchers of the world (see below – a European Robin in Beijing!), and can even attract media coverage! Mystery surrounds what causes these birds to end up so far from their normal ranges. I investigate what the causes of this phenomenon may be, as well as the potential ecological consequences.