Assistant Professor, Princeton University
Faculty Associate, Princeton Environmental Institute
Avian coloration and morphology: Insights from tiny hummingbirds, giant emus and other birds
Abstract: Birds evolved about 150 million years ago, and today they are the most diverse and colorful land vertebrates. In my group, we are fascinated by the ecological and evolutionary processes that drive this variation. Much of our work investigates coloration and vision in birds. A fundamental challenge is that birds see differently from humans: they have tetrachromatic vision (four color cone-types) and ultraviolet sensitivity. To estimate a “bird’s-eye view,” we combine advanced imaging techniques with new computational methods. This has allowed us to test ideas about how birds use color to attract mates, avoid predators and deceive rivals. In the field, we are establishing a system for studying color perception in wild hummingbirds in the Rocky Mountains. These tiny iridescent birds lead colorful lives, performing spectacular courtship dives and pollinating diverse wildflowers. We also study the avian egg, a remarkable structure that is tough but breakable. The eggs laid by stealthy cuckoos and flightless emus offer insights into avian behavior and evolution. We apply a highly interdisciplinary approach, combining tools from mathematics, computer vision and bioengineering, to explore the avian world.
Host: Scott Edwards