Ecophysicists

Our Team

I am excited to announce that I have started a lab in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle. In the Behavioral Ecophysics lab, we study organismal mechanisms (e.g., physiology, biomechanics) in light of biotic and abiotic interactions. If you are interested in joining the lab as a student (grad or undergrad), tech, or postdoc, please send me an email to colibri (at) uw (dot) edu

Alejandro Rico-Guevara

PI

Research interests: Functional morphology and evolution

Energetically constrained animals have evolved adaptations to enhance caloric intake. On the other hand, animal competition sometimes turns into physical combat, and particular weaponry evolves. I perform theoretical and empirical research on each of these fronts, and study an unexpected case of their intersection: hummingbird bill weapons. My recent discoveries revive questions dating back to Darwin and Wallace about how these birds budget energy gain and expenditure to enable hovering, the most expensive form of locomotion, establishing coevolutionary relationships with flowers, and a peculiar adaptive radiation. These novel perspectives of a data-rich mutualistic system, open the door to quantitative and comparative assessments of trade-offs between energy optimality and fighting proficiency. I translate the insights from this work into testable hypotheses for a plethora of nectar-feeding animals, and the evolution and constraints of the evolution of combat traits in nature. My research is question-, rather than technique-driven; thus, I pursue cross-disciplinary approaches aimed to achieve a more complete integration across biological levels of organization.

Jay Falk

Postdoc

Research interests: variation within and between sexes

Jay Falk received his PhD at Cornell University, where his dissertation work focused on color polymorphism in female hummingbirds. He is broadly interested in behavioral ecology and the evolution of diversity, both within and across sexes, and between species as well. As a postdoc in the Behavioral Ecophysics lab, he is currently studying the behavior of hummingbirds and their feeding strategies from an energetic and morphological perspective. He is also passionate about learning teaching methods and designing biology curricula to engage and empower a culturally diverse student body.
Madza Farias-Virgens

Postdoc

Research Interests: Population genomics, brain transcriptomics and evolution of neurobiology.

Madza’s work applies population genomics and brain transcriptomics to better understand the evolution and neurobiology of complex traits and skilled behaviors. Her PhD dissertation  focused on the evolutionary and neurogenetic processes underlying the evolution of flexible vocal learning in the domesticated Bengalese finch, co-advised by Stephanie White at UCLA and Emilia Huerta-Sanchez at Brown University, and in collaboration with Kaz Okanoya at University of Tokyo and Terry Deacon at UC Berkeley. Madza holds a Bachelor in Biomedical Sciences from State University of Santa Cruz in Brazil, a Masters of Science in Genetics and Molecular Biology from Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, and a Masters of Art in Anthropology from UC Berkeley. She has received graduate awards from important governmental institutions in Brazil and in the US, including an award from the Coordination for Improvement of Higher Education Personnel in Brazil, and a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation; as well as her work’s recognition as a “Hot Topic in Neuroscience” at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, and her nomination to the Society for Systematic Biologists Excellence Symposium at Evolution 2021, the joint annual  conference of the American Society of Naturalists, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the Society of Systematic Biologists. More recently she received a grant from the International Society for Neuroethology named after one of the founders of songbird studies in the US Professor Masakazu Konishi, to kickstart field work on the population genomics and behavior of Jacobin hummingbirds, in collaboration with Claudio Mello at Oregon Health and Science University and Alejandro Rico-Guevara at University of Washington

Rosalee Elting

Lab Manager

Research interests: Physiological & Behavioral Ecology, Energetics

I am interested in the energetics of behaviors and what it costs an animal and what they gain by behaving in such ways. I have investigated this in labs investigating maximum feeding rates, surface temperatures, metabolism, and torpor (Powers and Shankar Labs) and have a background in physiology in relation to pharmacological applications (Brooks Lab). Hummingbirds are my desired target taxa and have served as a great model with their extreme behaviors (ie. mating displays) and elevated metabolic demands. I like to focus all of my work outward as well, with an emphasis on outreach and SciComm and being a strong communicator of science to other scientists and the general public. I do this in both the Behavioral Ecophysics Lab and the Burke Museum . See my website for recent news and publications.

GRADUATE STUDENTS

Alyssa Sargent

Graduate Student

Research interests: behavioral ecology, movement and foraging ecology, advanced wildlife tracking

I am highly interested in leveraging technology to enhance traditional, ornithological field techniques. I have studied a wide variety of birds around the world, from owls in Canada, to seabirds in Portugal, to songbirds in Australia and the United States. This experience has allowed me to understand the ways in which advanced wildlife tracking can strongly complement behavioral ecology around the world. For my PhD, I am focusing on hummingbirds in the tropics, where much of their natural history remains a mystery, especially their daily movement patterns. Alongside this, I am heavily invested in outreach and communicating my work with the broadest audience I can—I believe that this work is equally important to the scientific research I conduct.

Amanda Hewes

Graduate Student

Research interests: functional morphology, evolution

My broad interest is in the evolution of form-function relationships. Bird-plant coevolution is a fantastic system for studying this concept, as it requires a reciprocal form-function relationship between the avian nectarivores/pollinators and the plants they feed from. The multiple evolutions of avian nectarivory also provide replicates with which to study the repeatability of these form-function relationships, and understand which forces drive convergence versus divergence across avian pollination systems. For my PhD I will be studying Australian honeyeaters and their functional relationships with plants (feeding efficiency, pollination services) to better understand the structure of that pollination system, and I hope to compare these findings with what is known about the hummingbird pollination systems in the Neotropics. My publications and more details about specific projects can be found on my website.

David Cuban

Graduate Student

Research interests: biomechanics, evolution, ecology

I am interested in investigating convergent evolution through the lens of biomechanics, morphology, and ecology. I focus on nectar-feeding birds as my study system as there are many avian clades that have independently evolved the ability to feed on nectar.  For my PhD I am studying sunbirds, a passerine family that shares many traits with those of hummingbirds while still having notable differences in feeding biomechanics and ecology. I hope to discover the details of sunbird feeding mechanisms and floral interactions/ecology utilizing high speed video, custom remote sensors, and ecological studies.

Yasmeen Erritouni

Graduate Student

Research Interests: color evolution, biological pigments, iridescence, genotype-to-phenotype

I’m interested in the evolution of avian color, especially iridescence. Iridescent coloration plays crucial signaling roles in a wide range of avian taxa, but remains poorly understood from both evolutionary and genetic perspectives. I aim to understand both what factors drive the evolution of iridescence and what genes could be implicated in its expression. 

RESEARCH STAFF

Kristiina Hurme

Collaborator

Research Interests: Behavioral ecology

For my dissertation, I studied maternal care in a neotropical frog, Leptodactylus insularum, in Panama. These large frog mommas often care for schools of 1000s of tadpoles in temporary ponds. I found that they reached metamorphosis surprisingly quickly, growing from egg to juvenile froglet in about two weeks! In order to grow and develop so fast, these tadpoles were constantly active and foraging. This activity attracted a lot of attention from predators, such as fishing spiders and herons, and I found that the only schools that survived to metamorphosis had a mother guarding them. These courageous moms not only fought off predators (even my hand!), but also communicated with the schools, guiding them to safe foraging areas. Some males have large and muscular arms with thumb spines (intrasexually selected weapons), and the only males I observed breeding were huge and covered in battle scars.

Kiley Garcia Kellum

Collaborator

Research Interests: Structural morphology, biomechanics, ecomorphology

I am a recent engineering graduate from Brown University passionate about the complex intersection between the physical and biological worlds. I believe that the most impressive designs are often found in the natural world around us, and studying how and why such intricate systems and phenomena that shape biology can, in fact, inspire solutions to many human issues. One of such phenomena is how different organisms have evolved structural morphologies specifically adapted for flight, and the physical limitations that define this adaptation. Along with my current work in elucidating the mechanochemical efficiencies of hummingbirds feeding with the Ecophysics Lab, I have likewise studied avian evolution with the Clarke Lab, and additionally, the biomechanics of bat flight in the Aeomechanics and Evolutionary Morphology Lab (Swartz Lab). My undergraduate thesis involved analyses of leading-edge wing structures and their influences on wing camber during steady bat flight.

Orlando Combita

Collaborator

Research Interests: sexual conflict, functional morphology, systematics, symbiotic relationship.

I graduated from The Ohio State University in the Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology EEOB Ph.D. program on the renowned Acarology Laboratory at the Museum of Biological Diversity. I used mites as a model to study symbiotic relationships. My research focuses on how mite-host associations are maintained through time, how they can lead to mite speciation, and how symbionts respond to environmental changes. I had based my research on ecologically important mites such as water mites and mites associated with beetles to produce studies in biodiversity, lifecycle, reproduction, coevolution, and sexual selection. I specialized in the use of modern microscopy techniques such as Cryo Scanning Electron Microscopy (Cryo-SEM), Confocal Laser Scan Microscopy (CLSM), Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), Synchrotron X-ray microtomography (SR-mCT), and 3D modeling programs to produce quality images and 3D models for explaining evolutionary phenomena through the internal and external morphology of this tiny creatures. I am currently applying this knowledge and techniques to study a fascinating system on mites associated with hummingbirds and the plants that the hummingbirds pollinate.

PAST LAB MEMBERS

Derrick Groom

Former Postdoc

Assistant Professor, San Francisco State University

Hermione Deng

Former Research Tech

PhD Student, Colorado State University

Melissa Morado (Mel)

Former Research Tech

Master’s Student, Colorado State University