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New preprint outlining ideas on leucistic birds

Allison Shultz and I have a new preprint available on EcoEvoRxiv: Community-sourced sightings of atypical birds can be used to understand the evolution of color and pattern. We’re really excited to discuss our ideas on leucistic birds and how these rare sightings can be useful to the scientific community! Find the preprint here: https://ecoevorxiv.org/fhkev/

Abstract: Birds are known for their brilliant colors and extraordinary patterns. Sightings of individuals with atypical plumage often cause considerable excitement in the birding public, but the difficulty of studying these one-off sightings means they have received less attention by the scientific community. In this perspective, we argue that sightings of individuals with atypical plumage hold the potential to further our understanding of the evolution of plumage color and patterning in birds. As a demonstration, we focus on sightings of leucistic individuals—those that lack melanin across the body or in certain feather patches—and outline two case studies. First, we discuss the potential for understanding carotenoid pigmentation with these sightings. Leucism influences melanins, but not carotenoids, and so with these sightings the extent and distribution of carotenoids across the body are unmasked. In a leucistic individual, carotenoids may or may not be more extensive than what is typically visible and this could help to understand the energetic costs and constraints that are involved in obtaining, processing, and depositing carotenoids in different species. Second, we discuss how partial leucism could provide insights into plumage pattern evolution. We demonstrate that one can use the many observations present on community science platforms to identify repeated patterns in different partially leucistic individuals of the same species, and match these to patches present in related species. These patterns could be the result of shared underlying genetic variation that controls plumage patterning in birds over a variety of evolutionary distances. With these case studies we outline just a few potential lines of inquiry that are possible with sightings of these atypical individuals. We encourage researchers to take full advantage of these chance sightings when they occur and database managers to make it possible to more easily tag photos or sightings of individuals with atypical plumage. 

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Many virtual seminars!

I’ve had the pleasure to connect with a number of different groups in California through virtual seminars over the past few months! The San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory in November, the Natural History Museum of LA County in December, and Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve this month. So many amazing biologists and folks interested in birds! Thanks for the invites Sirena Lao, Allison Shultz, and Jorge Ramos!

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Paper on flicker hybrid zone movement now on bioRxiv!

I’m really excited to finally have this manuscript submitted for peer review and available on bioRxiv! We use direct re-sampling of a transect originally conducted in the 1950s to assess movement in the flicker hybrid zone over the past 60 years. We find ~73 km westward shift in the center of the hybrid zone, but no associated changes in width.

Check out the preprint to learn more! And definitely reach out if you have any comments!

bioRxiv link: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.16.456504v1

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PhD Defense and upcoming move!

I’m excited to say that I’ve successfully defended my PhD! And equally excited to say that I’ve accepted a postdoctoral position at Stanford University in the Stanford Science Fellows program! I’m really looking forward to moving back West and spending some time in the California sun! I’ll be pursuing the genetic basis of mate choice in swordtails with Molly Schumer—a switch from my PhD work on flickers, but hopefully it’ll be a fun change!

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First virtual conferences

Summers are always the time for academic conferences, but this year was a little different. I’ve participated in two conferences in the last few weeks: the Great Lakes Annual Meeting of Evolutionary Genomics and the North American Ornithological Conference VII. These were supposed to be held in Rochester, NY and San Jose, Puerto Rico, but due to COVID-19 they ended up being virtual. It was definitely interesting getting to connect with colleagues and present my work from the comfort of my own home. I can see both the positive and negative aspects of entirely virtual conferences, so I hope they can continue but don’t totally replace in-person conferences in the future!

I presented on the results from my recent bioRxiv preprint and got lots of useful feedback! I was even awarded an honorable mention for the Student Presentation Awards at NAOC, which is huge given they had 200+ presentations up for awards this year!