RESEARCH  PROGRAM

CURRENT RESEARCH

PH.D. RESEARCH

STUDENT RESEARCH

        My research interests span the fields of physiology, ecology, and behavior.  Specifically, I am interested in proximate mechanisms, both physiological and behavioral, associated with organisms breeding under different time and energy constraints.  My current research focuses on the endocrine physiology, ecology, and behavior of birds, and I am currently exploring questions involving both temperate- and Arctic-breeding birds.  While Hollins University is primarily an undergraduate institution with no graduate program in the sciences, I am very interested in involving students with aspects of my research. 


M. Wilson      

 


M. Wilson

      My doctoral research, under Dr. Rebecca L. Holberton, involved the study of two populations of a single bird species, the Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia), breeding at two extremes of its breeding range in North America -  at the edge of the tree line on the western edge of the Hudson Bay at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, and in the mid-temperate zone in the mountains of West Virginia and western Maryland.  The Yellow Warbler's very broad breeding distribution (one of the broadest of any passerine breeding in North America) made it an ideal candidate for the study of two populations of the same species breeding under very different environmental conditions in a given year.  At each location, birds were captured and sampled for the adrenocortical response to stress during distinct stages of the breeding cycle (e.g. incubation, provisioning to nestlings) that illustrated distinct stages of parental investment and expenditure.  The results of this (and related) work suggest that birds breeding under potentially severe conditions and/or temporal constraints show unique hormonal responses that reflect physiological adaptation(s) to these conditions. 
       Thus far, much investigation of the modulation of the adrenocortical response to stress during the breeding season has been conducted in birds breeding at high latitudes, high altitudes, or in desert environments.  Similar hormonal responses also may occur in particular temperate-breeding birds if they are similarly constrained energetically or temporally during the breeding cycle.  The American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis, may be an example.  While male and female goldfinches form breeding pairs early in the spring (like most other temperate-breeding species), they do not nest until mid- to late-summer (they are almost exclusively seed-eaters, provision seeds to their young, and therefore time their reproduction event(s) with the production of seeds by many summer plants).  So, unlike many temperate- breeding birds that may raise more than one clutch successfully each year, goldfinches have only a limited window of opportunity for reproductive success in any given year.  Like many temperate-breeding passerines, both male and female goldfinches feed their nestlings.  However, male goldfinches also provision food to females while females are incubating eggs (a pattern not seen in most other temperate-breeding birds), suggesting that male goldfinches may be more constrained energetically than most other temperate- breeding male passerines. I am currently investigating the adrenocortical response of American Goldfinches during specific periods of the breeding cycle, as well as during other periods of their annual cycle.



M. Wilson


M. Wilson



M. Wilson


M. Wilson

     While my recent and current research has focused on the behavioral ecology and endocrine physiology of passerines, my research interests extend beyond the biology of birds.  Recently, two Hollins University students and I took part in a research project (headed by Dr. Ben Cash of Maryville College) investigating the basic breeding biology of the Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) at the northern limit of its breeding range in Manitoba.