© National Geographic Society
Watch grackles solve a challenge
from Aesop's Fables
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© NY Times
The grackle's secret to success
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What is behavioral flexibility and is it a mechanism for surviving in new environments?
Behavioral flexibility, the ability to adapt behavior to new circumstances, is thought to play an important role in a species' ability to successfully adapt to new environments and expand its geographic range. However, behavioral flexibility is rarely directly tested in species in a way that would allow us to determine how it works and how we can make predictions about a species' ability to adapt their behavior to new environments. I use great-tailed grackles (a bird species) as a model to investigate this question because they have rapidly expanded their range into North America over the past 140 years. I found that they are behaviorally flexible and that flexibility is independent from problem solving ability, problem solving speed, other behaviors, and innovativeness, and that grackles can solve some problems with a similar efficiency to New Caledonian crows. We are currently investigating how great-tailed grackles are able to rapidly expand their geographic range by testing their behavior, immunity, hormones, parasites, and population genetics in three populations from the core of their range to the expanding northern edge.
I co-founded a global network of researchers with field sites to investigate hypotheses that involve generalizing across many individuals. We conduct the same tests in the same way across species to determine whether the results of particular experiments are generalizable beyond that species. We are investigating whether behavioral flexibility in species associated with human modified environments can be increased and, if so, whether this increase helps threatened species survive in a city; and whether survival information can spread faster through social learning.
My commitment to conducting rigorous, verifiable research
My goal is to ethically conduct and promote rigorous research. I avoid exploiting myself as a scientist, I facilitate equality and diversity by ensuring that no one is discriminated against when reading my scientific literature, and I make publishing choices keep funds in academia (see my article and presentation for background). I use the mechanisms of transparency and verifiability to achieve my goal so anyone can evaluate my contributions at every step of the process. I only submit articles to 100% open access journals at ethical publishers, and I publish the review histories and datasets (and usually also R code). I only review and serve as an editor for articles at 100% open access journals at ethical publishers where the review history is published, and I sign my reviews. I preregister my research (write the study plan before collecting data) and I submit it for pre-study peer review at Peer Community In. (Updated May 2019)
More on grackles at GitHub & follow their adventures on Twitter #TheGrackleProject & YouTube
We are recruiting undergrads!
Sevchik's senior thesis found male-biased dispersal
Causal cognition article is out
How to train your grackle to use a computer article is out
We discovered the 2nd case of male parental care in great-tailed grackles & our preregistration passed pre-study peer review at PCI Ecology!
Beren's senior theses passed pre-study peer review at PCI Ecology!
Preregistrations have passed pre-study peer review at PCI Ecology! Is flexibility manipulatable,
linked with inhibition, exploration,
& foraging/social behavior? What learning mechanisms do grackles use?
Learn how early career researchers (ECRs) are leading individuals and institutions in adopting open practices to improve research rigor at...