Social networks are a fundamental characteristic of all animal societies. When individuals interact with one another there are properties of those interactions that result in a greater sum than the individual actions can have on their own. While social organization is a fundamental characteristic of biological systems, our understanding of how hormones shape cooperation and subsequent networks is limited. Specifically, this research aims to elucidate the role of hormones in the complex reproductive and social behaviors of a cooperative lek-breeding bird, the wire-tailed manakin (Pipra filicauda).
The project will focus on testosterone as starting point for understanding the hormonal basis of the behaviors that influence social network structure. Two overarching questions will guide the framework of the study: 1) how does individual variation in testosterone shape male social behavior, the frequency and stability of cooperative partnerships, and individual fitness (i.e., social rise and reproductive success), and 2) how does variation in testosterone at the individual level scale-up to affect social network structure?
Networks describe the organizational structure of nearly every biological system ranging from tiny molecules to species in an ecological community. Social networks are a common characteristic of all animal societies and they can have a profound impact on the evolution of behaviors. For example our connections or "friends" within a social network can influence both our current and future behaviors. This project will help us understand the physiological mechanisms that regulate cooperation and influence social networks in birds. Quantifying these mechanisms represents a major advance towards understanding cooperation in complex societies, a problem which has perplexed evolutionary biologists for over a century.
This project also establishes the basis for conducting future work on how the social environment, gene expression and hormones such as testosterone interact to determine how organisms behave in social networks. Ultimately, this work will help us understand and improve our social environment to maximize cooperation and increase productivity.
Your donations will be put toward a field expedition in the winter of 2013 to collect preliminary data on how hormones influence cooperation and social networks. Specifically, your funds will help cover international airfare, lodging costs and travel to the lowland rainforest of Central Ecuador. In addition to travel and lodging, donations will be used to help cover the costs of field equipment. The project will use small radio tags and data-logging receivers to monitor the social interactions and networks of manakins and this technology is fairly costly.
Finally, all of my research projects aim to create mentoring opportunities for students that are under-represented in science. As such, donations will help hire an Ecuadorian intern that will travel to the field with the scientists to gain invaluable research experience. Past undergraduate students involved in the project have not only helped in the field but have maintained involvement in analyses and manuscript preparation. Additionally, some have gone on to pursue their own graduate studies in the biological sciences.
T. Brandt Ryder: I am a Research Ecologist working at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, DC. I received my PhD from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2008. My research uses an integrative, multi-disciplinary approach to answer basic and applied questions in evolutionary ecology. I address these questions using observational and experimental field studies, molecular genetic tools, behavioral endocrinology and a suite of analytical approaches including social network analyses and demographic modeling. The overarching conceptual framework for my research program is to understand how intrinsic (social environment) and extrinsic (environmental heterogeneity) ecological factors influence behavioral variation, fitness, selection dynamics, and population processes. Within this framework my research uses birds as a model system and includes the following themes: Complex Social Behavior, Social Network Theory, Mate Choice, Reproductive Strategies, Sexual Selection, Behavioral Phenotypes, Population Demography, Migratory Connectivity and, Source-Sink Dynamics.
A special thanks to those who supported the development of this petridish video. Specifically, thanks to Macaulay Library at Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Tim Laman for access to video content taken at Tipuntini Biodiversity Station. Photo credits include Murray Cooper, Theo Allofs and Sarah Frey-Hadley for photos taken at Tiputini. Finally, thanks to Tom Ryder (Dad) for help with video editing and Julia Feder (Wifey) for help with script and slide development.