I am interested in how animals perceive the world around them, and how this shapes their behavior. How do animals’ senses and sensory environment interact to determine how they communicate with each other?
I have recently joined the RZ Lab following my previous advisor’s move to the University of Cincinnati. Until now, I worked with Dr. Nathan Morehouse on the complex visual displays of Habronattus jumping spiders. These animals have multiple pairs of eyes, but only one forward-facing pair is capable of color vision and high spatial resolution. Males employ patterned, colorful ornaments in their courtship dances, but these are perceived differently by the female depending on the relative position of both actors. Jumping spiders have multiple pairs of eyes, but only one forward-facing pair is capable of color vision and high spatial resolution. Despite this, I found that females and males are rarely aligned such that his colors are visible to her, and that females often look away from males. Attracting a female’s gaze and maintaining her attention may be important for a male to effectively communicate his quality. I am also investigating how the visual background affects how easily males can capture a female’s attention and whether males can adjust their displays accordingly to compensate. Currently, I am finishing up the work I started with Dr. Morehouse, and am excited to apply these questions to a new system.
I am also passionate about outreach and public engagement in science and nature. In particular, I like to get people thinking about how animals (including ourselves) see the world around them, and to appreciate how cool (not scary!) arthropods really are. I have worked with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, and even helped put on a spider dance show at the Wood Street Art Gallery. In addition, I have helped design and run several after-school events with Assemble PGH, a non-profit aimed at serving students from underprivileged neighborhoods, including a four-part series on animal and human senses.
Prior to all of this, I completed my dual Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Applied Physics at the University of Miami in 2013. There, I worked as a research assistant with Dr. Gavin Leighton (now at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) studying the maintenance of social nest construction in sociable weavers (Philetarius socius).
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