I’m at the Animal Behavior Meeting in Boulder, CO. Tomorrow is the last day. The talks here have been great, especially the first hour session on vocal communication in birds. Another highlight for me was Jesse Barber‘s talk on hawkmoth defenses against bats. More people than I expected turned out to see my talk on food sharing in vampire bats. I received some generous remarks from scientific heroes Robert Seyfarth, Jack Bradbury, and Sandra Vehrencamp–which was motivational. Basically, anything even slightly positive these folks would have to say to me is highly motivating! Several people even told to me that my talk was their favorite of the meeting so far, which sadly means that people must be skipping many of the other talks. Here’s the talk as a PDF. Also, I put this 2 min video in the amateur film festival. The sound didn’t work, but that’s probably for the better.
The highlight of the meeting so far has been a discussion I had with Kevin Foster (a young scientist who is now one of the leading figures in social evolution theory) on alternative social evolution models for food sharing in vampire bats that do not depend on reciprocity. I also enjoyed Kisi Bohn‘s talk on singing free-tailed bats, and talking with Juan Duque about his work on food sharing in pinyon jays. Juan has a really cool setup with pinyon jays feeding each other through cage walls. I think it’s a great opportunity to look at audience effects and testing a costly signaling explanation for food sharing. There was a cool talk on chimpanzee cooperation as well.
Rebecca Safran presented her really impressive work on linking individual and population -level processes and patterns using sexual selection in barn swallows as a model. We were actually in the same lab together about 10 years ago at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I joined the molecular ecology lab there as a totally clueless freshman. I thought a microsatellite marker was a device for tracking birds from space. (Some of us had slow starts…).
While here, I ran some preliminary analyses of a study I’m doing with help from new labmate Edward Hurme on kinship information in vampire bat contact calls. Based on more than 37,000 contact call syllables recorded from isolated individuals, we found a weak but significant correlation between pairwise relatedness and contact call similiarity. Very cool. I’m also helping a friend write a paper on distress call responses. In 10 days, I fly to Costa Rica for the International Bat Meetings.