The DuVal Lab - Jessica Cusick

Samantha Dietz

M.S. Thesis Student
Office: KIN 4004, Department of Biological Science

B.S. Biological Sciences (focus: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation) – North Carolina State University

Research Interests:
My research interests have always been broadly focused on social groups and the mechanisms by which these groups are maintained. During my undergraduate career I used the Winnow ant as a model organism to investigate how colonial species control the spread of disease in environments like nests, where disease transmission is potentially high and could be detrimental to colony survival.

Currently, I am investigating how cooperative breeding and family groups form and are sustained. I focus on natal dispersal, which is the stage in an organism’s life when it moves from its natal territory to its breeding site. Individuals vary greatly in the time they choose to disperse and the methods by which they prospect the landscape while looking for a place to settle.  I aim to understand what drives the variation in individual dispersal behavior and assess how birds make settlement decisions prior to breeding. I work with the Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla), a small song bird found in pine forests throughout the southeastern United States. These birds are facultative cooperative breeders and exhibit variation in individual dispersal decisions, making them an ideal species with which to investigate these questions.