It's my mission to take students on a voyage of discovery through the natural world, where beauty and wonder exist at every level. Every student brings their own experiences and perspectives to this journey, and my goal is to create an environment where students feel safe and comfortable asking questions and expressing their opinions. I also try to provide students with a conceptual framework for their new knowledge, as well as the skills needed to apply this knowledge to new situations. I encourage students to synthesize material from different topics, and push them to think critically about the material, seeking to not just understand 'what,' but 'why' and 'how.'
I strive to fan the flames of curiosity in my students, and it's my hope that through interactive tools, hands-on activities, demonstrations and discussions, I can instill in them a love of learning that will last a lifetime. Learning should be fun and relevant to our everyday lives, so my lessons become a mix of real world examples, situations directly applicable to student lives (such as how to train your roommate), puns and other bad jokes, metaphors based on popular culture, and obscure sci-fi, fantasy, and Disney-Pixar references just to keep things interesting.
As a behavioral ecologist, I am broadly interested in vocal communication systems and the influence of ecology and life history strategy on communication system complexity. My research focus is on applied bioacoustics, which brings knowledge of animal communication and behavior to bear on conservation and wildlife management problems. My work with various rodent species has demonstrated that even relatively simple signals, such as alarm calls, contain a surprising amount of information about the caller, such as his/her age, sex and even individual vocal identity. My work with Belding's ground squirrels suggests that vocal signals may also provide information about the genetic relationships between individuals. Sociality can also influence the amount and type of information contained in signals; in an effort to advance our understanding of the influence of sociality on vocal repertoire size and complexity, I am working with a team from UC Davis and the SETI Institute to investigate the relationship between whistle structure, syntax, and affective state in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). The complexity of this communication system may tell us more about the evolution of human language.
Vocal signals are structured to navigate through a noisy environment from sender to receiver. Anthropogenic (human-generated) noise is very different from naturally-occurring noise sources. My research focuses on how noise can disrupt effective communication, and the methods that animals use to manage or mitigate this interference (such as the cocktail-party effect). Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) population declines have been blamed at least partially on noise from natural gas development; I am currently building a computer model to simulate how this noise has spread across the landscape over time in order to investigate the relationship between noise exposure level, attendance at mating grounds called leks, and nesting success of females. I am also involved in a study of the effects of boat noise on humpback whale feeding calls and behavior in the Gulf of Alaska.