Guest lecture David F. Westneat
By invitation from the Natural History Museum, National Center for Biosystematics (NCB), David F. Westneat, Professor of behavioural ecology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA will present a lecture on the following topic: Signaling in social groups: Function and development of the sparrow’s bib
Signaling in social groups: Function and development of the sparrow’s bib
David F. Westneat, Professor of behavioural ecology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA
Professor Westneat’s research interest lies within the biology of social behaviour, particularly the interactions between the sexes, which involve a complex mixture of cooperation and conflict. His research program includes detailed observations of the behaviour of free-living animals, use of molecular and biochemical techniques to uncover processes linked to mating interactions, experimental manipulations of key ecological and social factors, and empirical and theoretical work on the developmental and mechanistic processes producing behaviour. He has two major research areas: extrapair mating systems and the development and function of plumage signals in birds. He uses mainly the red-winged blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus and the house sparrow Passer domesticus as model species in his research.
Signaling systems raise fascinating questions that cut across several levels of analysis. Signals may function in any of several different ways, and could be the outcome of any of several different developmental processes. Moreover, theory on stable signaling predicts that development should integrate well with function. My students and I have been studying the black throat patch (the ‘bib’) of male house sparrows with these questions in mind. I will present data on three potential functions of this plumage trait, with a focus on its role as a signal of status in winter flocks. Sparrows produce the bib during their annual molt in early autumn, and there are some alternative mechanisms by which the bib comes to contain information during this time. We have tested some of these. Our results on both function and development reveal some surprising complexity, and suggest that simple models of signal function and development are inadequate to explain this signal.