WELCOME TO THE PARSONS LAB!
Students working with me have a variety of interests related to Behavioral Ecology and Conservation Behavior. The common thread that underpins most of our research is a desire to practice good science through meaningful projects. We aim to contribute to improved conservation, animal management and welfare. We aren’t restricted to working with any particular taxa; rather (with the help of colleagues around the world) we are using the comparative method to test theories that apply to multiple species subjected to similar selective pressures. Of particular interest is Social Transmission (communication), Optimal Foraging Theory, Games Theory and Fear Ecology.
Thanks to our collaborators and sponsors, students througout New York and the Tri-State area will have opportunities to undertake fieldwork nearby many of our 26 regional units. Students who are free to travel in the Summer 2013 will have an opportunity to apply for training at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. More adventurous students may wish to take advantage of our partnerships to train on Mainland Australia or Tasmania. Ask me how to apply for funding to partly, or completely, cover these costs. In some cases stipends are also available!
Can Targeted Education influence Movements of American Black Bears that Co-occur around Campsites?
In a collaboration with Pace University, Master’s Candidate Katie Fox will examine whether targeted education might influence the range and movements of black bears that forage near campsites in the Catskills, NY. We will ask whether citizen participation and adaptive management regimes will improve the welfare and management of bears and lead to improved experiences for the campers.
Delayed Habituation and Fear Conditioning to Stimulus
Why do animal deterrents rarely seem to work for very long? With the help of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Caitlin Lecker has been working on the additive effects of laser lights and bioacoustics (alarm calls) to influence the behavior of Ring billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) near Lake Champlain, NY. Caitlin has learned that gulls react to a type of green laser light more so than red, and that the effects are additive when both cues are combined. Over time, it appears the gulls became sensitized (fear conditioned) to multimodal, but not unimodal, cues. Caitlin has submitted her work for peer review to the Journal of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
The responses of mule deer to biologically meaningful sounds and scents
Do some animals eavesdrop on the communication of other species? Mr. Scott Flanagan will be our lab’s first nominee to undertake fieldwork at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Along with collaborator Dan Blumstein (UCLA) , Scott intends to investigate how mule deer (Odocoileus hemionuson) eavesdrop on alarm calls from small co-occurring species (sciurids, rodents). Scott will be looking at the influence of alarm calls in isolation, and in conjunction with recently voided (active) predator scents, on the deer’s behavior. Of particular interest will be a comparison between habituated deer close to town and those in remote areas.
Hersheys, nuts, anchovies and beer (and rats?!)
Are Norway rats (Rattus noregicus) really adapted to shadow human settlements? Local students wishing to explore Urban Ecology (in conjunction with Ron Sarno, Hofstra) can participate in one of the few studies of free-ranging rat behavior in NYC. Here, we are broadly interested in food selection among alternatives, vigilance, stress indicators and disease transmission.
Along with Melissa Grigione, Pace University, we are interested in using Cafeteria Trials and paired exclosures to look at selective herbivory (choosing plants, or plant stands, from among many alternatives), self-medication (including plant metabolites that make animals ‘high’) and social transmission (intra-species communication regarding the whereabouts of food sources and predators) in a variety of taxa.
In conjunction with Trish Fleming Murdoch University, we are working to prolong the dramatic response of western grey kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosis) to recently voided urine from the top order predator, the dingo (Canis dingo). We are among the first to propose a Northern/Southern hemisphere approach to study anti-predator behavior and trophic cascades involving Macropods and Artiodactyls. Students wishing to undertake field work in Australia will examine the influence of various fear cues on Optimal Foraging decisions, time to habituation, and social transmission. North American students will use similar approaches to study artiodactyl behavior.
Chemical ecology and the degredation of natural scents over time
Can animals ascertain the difference between a newly voided and aged urine mark? Along with collaborators Ken Dods, WA Chemistry Centre and Dave Kiemle, SUNY Environmental School of Forestry , we are seeking to understand which chemical constituents are more likely to result in the startle response (Dods), and we are also looking at which chemicals dissipate during the degredation of the scent (Kiemle). A synthetic tool (pictured below) is being developed as the first tool to help influence macropod behavior and managment.
Animal welfare and policy
Students, as we all do, have an obligation to communicate the results of scientific projects at academic conferences. Students may wish to first present their work at the Student Academic Conference (STAC) as a warm up for a possible disciplinary venue. Presenting at the STAC conference is free, while limited funds may be available to support travel and accomodations to scientific conferences.
Interested in joining our community and/or proposing your own project? Please contact me directly.