Understanding the causes and consequences of reproductive cooperation is a major goal of research in the DuVal Lab. In collaboration with Jim Cox, vertebrate ecologist at Tall Timbers Research Station, this project investigates the effects of social context (and especially mate limitation) on cooperative behavior in the Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla).
Brown-headed Nuthatches are small, cavity-nesting passerines found in mature pine forests of the southeastern US, and the color-banded population at Tall Timbers offers a great opportunity to study variaition in cooperative behavior. This species is a classic "cooperative breeder," meaning that non-breeding adults often help raise others' offspring rather than breeding independently. Cooperative nuthatch groups naturally vary in helper number, helper sex, and relatedness to breeders, which lets us investigate the influence of experimental manipulations on each of these factors.
photo by Elliot Schunke
The nuthatch project also provides excellent research opportunities for current FSU undergraduates, as Tall Timbers is located just north of Tallahassee. Most recently, Alan Moss completed a Directed Independent Study project in spring 2012 that investigated whether cooperative groups provided females with more food resources during incubation.