Dr. Alice Boyle
Avian evolutionary ecology and plant-animal interactions
Dr. Boyle joined Kathy Martin's lab at UBC in November 2011
Please visit her new website: (www.aliceboyle.net)
Degrees and Institutions:
- Ph.D. (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, December 2006
- B.Mus., University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, May 1990
I am interested in the ecological factors shaping animal life-histories. Much of my research has focused on understanding the cost-benefit tradeoffs and community implications of migration and other animal movement patterns, including the consequences of disperser movements for plant dispersal. Recent work points to a strong role for climate variation in shaping migratory movements in the tropics, a finding with major implications for both basic and applied branches of ecology. I launched my own research program when I began my Ph.D., developing a study system independent of my advisors’ in a species-rich and globally threatened Neotropical wet forest. Such ecosystems present endless opportunities for unexpected discoveries, are major repositories of the world’s biodiversity, and are changing at alarming rates.
Research initiated during my Ph.D. tested multiple alternative hypotheses proposed to explain the causes of animal migration, and examined the consequences of frugivore migrations from the perspective of their plant mutualists. I evaluated food- and predation-based hypotheses for migration by examining variation in migratory behaviour among species at the community level, landscape-scale variation in nest predation risk, variation in fruit resources for a migrant species throughout the year over an elevational gradient spanned by migrants, and individual-level variation in migratory behaviour in a partially migratory species. Results of this last component suggest that physiological mechanisms related to fasting ability explain why many birds migrate to lower elevations on tropical mountains following breeding.
Recent post-doctoral research in collaboration with Chris Guglielmo (UWO) and Ryan Norris (U. Guelph) built upon this work by (i) examining multiple physiological responses of a partially migratory population of White-ruffed Manakins (Corapipo altera) to storms, and (ii) using behavioural data and stable isotopes to examine the consequences of variation in migratory strategy. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that small frugivores migrate downhill to avoid dying of starvation due to reductions in foraging time during heavy rain storms. These survival benefits appear to trade off with reproductive costs via reduced status at leks and ability to attract females for mating. (Watch video clips of displaying White-ruffed Manakins captured during recent field work in Costa Rica.) In collaboration with C. Taylor (Tulane) I am using the wealth of field data I’ve collected over several years to parameterize models that will predict changes in behavioural processes and species interactions under various predicted changes in global climatic patterns. Results of these studies (when combined with the extensive ecological data already collected, an ongoing population genetic study, and student-led behavioural projects) provide one of richest opportunities for understanding the various selective pressures that influence migratory tendency, and provide a conceptual foundation for comparing temperate and tropical migrants, long- and short-distance migrants, and among migrants differing in life history.
While continuing to build upon this growing and detailed knowledge of a tropical system, I am also exploring questions conceptually linked to previous work, but involving different systems and utilizing new experimental tools. In collaboration with David Winkler (Cornell) and Chris Guglielmo (UWO), we are investigating how the timing of spring migration in Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) is affected by climatic conditions and food-related stresses on body condition of early arrivals on one hand, while countered by selection for early arrival due to nest-site competition.
Generally, my research goals are to pursue questions that advance our fundamental understanding the origin and maintenance of biological diversity while simultaneously addressing research needs imposed by human alteration of natural communities. Major unanswered questions in my field include:
(1) What are the causes of variation in migratory strategy (and nature of the trade-offs involved in migratory decisions) in the broader context other animal migration systems?
(2) How does migration interact with and/or constrain basic life-history trade-offs?
(3) To what extent are proximate cues linked to the ultimate ecological factors shaping migration systems? How are both cues and proximate factors likely to change under anthropogenic climate change and habitat alteration? How can we mitigate the negative effects climate change to preserve the rich behavioural diversity currently found in migrant species?
(4) To what extent does migration of taxa in divergent lineages represents a single syndrome, or a common behavioural response to diverse selective pressures unique to each lineage? (Topic of a current collaboration with a colleague specializing in bat migration.)
This page was last updated on
January 19, 2012
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