Current Interest and Research
Taxonomy, mate choice, and conservation of the Little Blue Penguin. During a Faculty Fellowship/Sabbatical from May 2011 – January 2012, I began a new line of research focused on understanding the taxonomy and behavior of Little Blue Penguins in New Zealand. Although originally conceived of as a behavioral study, my initial research efforts have focused on using molecular techniques to sex and determine ancestry in a colony with two different types or “clades” of this species. We’re also exploring mate choice in this mixed colony. At present, we’re correlating morphological characters (e.g., head, bill, foot, and flipper length, as well as feather color and flipper color patterns) with clade and measures of reproductive success. In the future, we will examine the role of vocalizations in mate choice in this species. (See Dr. Clark's Research photos of Little Blue Penguins)
Night migration of birds and bats through New York City. Understanding how birds and bats assess and utilize increasingly large, brightly lit, and noisy cities as they travel through urban-rural corridors and encounter tall buildings, bridges, towers, and aircraft is essential to their conservation. However, little is known about how birds evaluate and navigate the resources available in and obstacles presented by urban landscapes during migration, which generally occurs at night and is confounded by ubiquitous, yet highly variable, light and noise pollution. My students are I are using acoustic recorders to record the vocalizations birds and bats make as they migrate and short-range radar to track movement patterns to examine how light and noise affect birds as they migrate through urban landscapes. Our radar studies at Fordham University and on Governor’s Island (in collaboration with New York City Audubon Society and the U.S. National Park Service). (See photos of Bird and Bat Migration in NYC)
Effects of a public art installation/light show on migrating birds in Philadelphia. Canadian-Mexican electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer created an art installation sponsored by Philadelphia’s Association for Public Art, the Open Air that used 24 powerful robotic searchlights placed along a ½ mile section of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from September 20 to October 14, 2012. The lights were activated by anyone downloading an app to their phone and making a recording and used software to translate the intonation, frequency, amplitude, and quality of each voice recording into the movements of the Parkway’s searchlights. The 3D light formations in the night sky formed a canopy of light over the city and was visible for up to 10 miles. To monitor potential impacts of the light show on night-migrating birds, I used human observation, small-scale radar, and acoustic recordings of species-specific night flight calls.
Bog Turtle habitat. Students in my lab are exploring the effectiveness of habitat restoration projects as well as the habitat requirements of the federally-threatened Bog Turtle in collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy. In addition, we're following gravid females to find their nest locations and then assessing nest-site microhabitat conditions that should inform conservation managers as they restore/protect Bog Turtle habitat. In addition to in field studies of Bog Turtle nesting ecology, we are exploring molecular techniques to answer questions relating to the breeding ecology of Bog Turtles. (See photos of Bog Turtle)
Song form and function in the Eastern Wood-pewee, a suboscine. Birds are a model for understanding human language development. But most bird song studies focus on oscine songbirds, which learn their songs, unlike suboscines, which generally do not require learning to produce species-appropriate song. We're studying this neglected taxon and have found that the two main call types of the suboscine Eastern Wood-pewee (the onomatopoeic “pee-ah-wee” and “we-ooo” calls) are indeed distinctive, though they appear to use their songs differently than do oscines. (See photos of Eastern Wood-pewee)
Sexual conflict and cooperation in two duetting tropical wrens. While complex songs duetting is common in many wren species, the Stripe-throated and Stripe-breasted Wrens are outliers with a highly unusual second song type – a series of hoots. We're exploring the form and function of this second song type to better understand how socially monogamous pairs balance conflict and cooperation in these Central American species. (See photos of Tropical Wrens)
Urban green roofs. The development of green roofs in urban areas is expanding dramatically. We're studying both new and mature green roofs in New York City and are showing that green roofs are highly important to bothmigrating and breeding birds. (See photos of Urban Green Roofs, or video on Green Roofs)
Stress in urban migratory stopover sites. Recent studies show migrating birds that stopover in urban parks are able to acquire substantial fat reserves. We're supplementing those data by evaluating whether these urban stopover sites are also more stressful, by evaluating stress hormones. (See photos of Bird Banding and Lab Analysis)
Changes in avian tick density. We're replicating a 1984 study of avian tick density to explore how avian tick prevalence and diversity may have changed over the past 25 years, in addition to assessing avian ticks and the birds themselves as potential disease vectors.
Population structure in wild cats. In collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History and Panthera, students in my lab have evaluated population structure in Puma (Puma concolor) and the Asian Golden Cat (Catopuma temminckii) using genetic data obtained from scat samples. (See photos of Genetic Analysis of Scat Samples)
Management of wild Canada Geese.In collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society/Bronx Zoo, we’re investigating the effects of dummying eggs on mate and nest-site fidelity in Canada Geese (Branta canadensis).
Acoustic enrichment for captive colonial birds. In collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society/Bronx Zoo, we've developed a highly successful acoustic enrichment program from captive populations of colonial bird species that are underachieving in the avian romance department. In 2009 and 2010, we dramatically increased the reproductive success of the Zoo's Chilean and American Flamingo populations and were able to move up the date of first egg by an entire month - increasing chick survival chances. In 2010, we were successful in helping produce the first new endangered Northern Bald Ibis chicks in several years. This research was the academic journal Zoo Biology’s January 2102 featured cover story. (See photos of Acoustic Enrichment for Captive Colonial Birds)
With campuses in Manhattan and the Bronx, and with its Calder Biological Field Station in Westchester County, Fordham is ideally situated to explore ecological questions associated with the urban environment and the urban-rural corridor.