Natural and sexual selection have resulted in a vast array of behavioral adaptations associated with nesting and mating. I am fascinated with the complex and sometimes bizarre behaviors that animals perform during reproduction. My research focuses on documenting such behavioral patterns, illuminating their function, and understanding the ecological processes and mechanisms underlying these behaviors.
Why do burrowing owls perform the odd behavior of lining their nesting burrows with mammal manure? My M.S. research tested 4 functional hypotheses to explain this behavior, and our data suggests that manure functions to attract prey to the burrow. Exactly how this benefits the reproductive success of individuals is still a mystery.
Variation in levels of male mating competition can influence reproductive behavior across related species, and among populations of the same species. But more fascinating, reproductive competition can lead to the evolution of alternative male mating tactics within a single population. How are these alternative phenotypes maintained? In condition-dependent tactics, there must be circumstances under which each tactic has higher fitness than the other. In other words, there are costs and benefits associated with each tactic. We have been exploring the nature of these trade-offs in horseshoe crabs. We are also interested in understanding how variation in ecological and environmental circumstances influence the point at which animals switch tactics.
Smith, M.D., H.E. Schrank, and H.J. Brockmann. 2013. Measuring the costs of alternative reproductive tactics in horseshoe crabs. Animal Behaviour 85:165-173.
Brockmann, H.J. and M.D. Smith. 2009. Reproductive competition and sexual selection in horseshoe crabs. In: Biology and Conservation of Horseshoe Crabs, eds J. Tanacredi, M.L. Botton, & D. Smith. Springer Publishers.
Smith, M.D. and C.J. Conway. 2011. Collection of mammal manure and other debris by nesting burrowing owls. Journal of Raptor Research 45: 220-228.
Smith, M.D. and C.J. Conway. 2007. Use of mammal manure by nesting burrowing owls: a test of four functional hypotheses. Animal Behaviour 75:65-73.