23rd October 2017 – Alyson Brokaw, Texas A&M University

Alyson BrokawI am a third year PhD student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Doctoral Degree Program at Texas A&M University. Broadly, I am interested in sensory ecology and animal communication, with a focus on bats. As a diverse group with over 1300 species, bats are a great system to investigate a range of ecological and evolutionary questions. It doesn’t hurt that they are also cute (#TeamBat)!

 I work in the Smotherman lab, where we study the ecology and neurobiology of bats (www.smothermanbatlab.com). Recent work in the lab has focused on singing and communication signals in Mexican free-tailed bats, networking strategies in groups of bats, neurological and muscular control of bat ecology, and territoriality and singing behavior in African bats. For my dissertation I am exploring how bats use olfaction for foraging, communication and navigation. I plan to address these topics using a combination of neurophysiology, histology, lab and field based behavioral experiments.

 I got my start in field ecology research as an undergraduate student at Cornell University, working with tree swallows in the Winkler lab. I also have a Master’s degree from Humboldt State University, where I studied the communication signals in Yuma myotis (a common small brown bat found in the western United States). I have been involved in field work on swallows in Argentina, cuckoos in Arizona, coyote and kit fox in Utah, migratory tree bats in California and leaf-nosed bats in Mexico.

 As a bonus, I am hosting Biotweeps at the same time as Bat Week (batweek.org), so expect lots of discussions about bat ecology, evolution and conservation, with as well as a mix of personal experience, outreach, #scicomm and #phdlife.


29th February 2016 – Higham lab, New York University

James HighamJames HighamI am a British biologist living in New York, and working as an Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology at New York University (NYU). I am particularly interested in sexual selection, and the evolution of traits that are selected because they improve reproductive success. Since successful reproduction involves a lot of communication between individuals (both rivals, and potential mates), much of my work also has a communication focus. Having undertaken my undergraduate (University of Cambridge) and masters (University of Oxford) degrees, and following a period of fieldwork in Madagascar, I did my PhD at what is now the University of Roehampton. My PhD work was on olive baboons at Gashaka in Nigeria, and I followed this with post-doctoral work at Roehampton (on drills in Nigeria), The University of Chicago (on rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico), and the German Primate Center (on crested macaques in Sulawesi, Indonesia). I moved to New York a little over 4 years ago, and now have a research group here which usually includes 1-2 postdocs, and currently 5 PhD students. I have an enzyme-immuno-assay laboratory here, where we measure different analytes and metabolites of the different primate species that we study (including humans!). Much of my recent work focuses on the evolution of visual signals, including the colorful facial patterns of guenon monkeys. The work that we undertake in our group varies from comparative analyses of whole groups of animals, to field studies of specific focal species in different parts of the tropics, to computational work that incorporates machine learning and computer vision. You can find out more about our work at www.nyuprimatology.com

Sandra Winters

Sandra WintersSandra is a PhD candidate at New York University whose research interests include adaptive coloration, visual signals, sensory ecology, and sexual selection. Her dissertation research focuses on the role of face patterns in the maintenance of reproductive isolation in guenons.

Megan PetersdorfMegan PetersdorfMegan is a PhD student in Biological Anthropology at New York University. She is interested in how different patterns and contexts of sexual selection have shaped the form, function, and evolution of sexually selected traits in primates. Her previous research examined symmetry in sexual swellings of female olive baboons in Nigeria, and the red facial coloration of male rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago. She is currently developing her PhD dissertation on the reproductive strategies of kinda baboons in Zambia.

November 24th 2014 – Steve Portugal, Royal Holloway

Steve PortugalI’m a comparative ecophysiologist working at London’s Royal Holloway University. My research is located at the interface of the physiology, sensory ecology and behaviour of vertebrates. The common theme of my work focuses on how animals adapt their behaviour and ecology to the challenges of their environment, within the constraints of their own physiological and anatomical limitations. Such questions are particularly important in the light of global environmental change and exploitation of natural resources. I am particularly interested in the extreme athletes of the animal kingdom – the long-distance migratory birds. I want to know how they cope with such intense exercise, what happens to their bodies before and during these mammoth flights, and what behavioural and physiological mechanisms they deploy to prepare for these events. I am also fascinated by bird navigation, particularly how groups and flocks of birds potentially work together to improve their abilities to get home and/or learn new migration routes. Other interests include bird vision and the ramifications this has for windfarm developments, and the aggression physiology of the amazing Siamese Fighting Fish. ​