Thursday, April 21, 2016

URSP Student Dianna Belman Examines how Environmental Conditions Explain Multimodal Signals in the Northern Cardinal

I am interested in exploring the relationship between signal interference in the environment and using multiple communication channels (i.e., visual signals and auditory signals) to convey a message. I examined this issue in the northern cardinal.

The origins of my interest in this topic have several roots. First and foremost, I have always been drawn toward understanding behavior and how the surrounding situation affects behavior. I have a M.A. in psychology and worked as a research psychologist for 10 years. I returned to study biology at the undergraduate level approximately three years ago with the goal of integrating my love for behavioral research with my other passion – animals. Upon taking a series of courses with Dr. David Luther, I became interested in exploring how signal interference in the environment (e.g., traffic noise, wind) affects the number and type of communication channels used by animals to convey messages.

My proposed research project represents the first step toward my broader educational and professional goals. I am interested in studying the evolution of animal communication at the graduate level. Specifically, I am interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in biology or a related field. One day, I would like to work at a university where I would conduct research on the evolution of animal communication and teach.

What I do in a given week changes depending on what stage I am in the project. The planning stage included activities such as identifying cardinal territories that have different levels of background noise. The data collection phase involved, for example, a smart app to record the frequency of cardinals’ acoustic and visual signals.

This week, I created a poster to present at the 2016 National Council on Undergraduate Research. During this process, I discovered how difficult (but also fun) it is to translate thoughts into pictures. I wanted passersby to be able to understand the hypothesis and results from far away and make it accessible to a general audience.