Independent project

In teams of two, students conduced an independent research project for the second half of the semester. The projects were based on ideas generated during the planned labs. Students were open to explore any area of animal behavior using techniques that are available at Reed College. Projects were presented at a "formal" poster session attended by all students and open to the Reed community.

(scroll down to see assignment details)

Pleiotropic effects of selection for ethanol sensitivity on aggression in D. melanogaster
- Leah Cepko & Mason Kennon abstract : poster
Student's Choice "Most Heroic Science"

Friend or Foe? Examining Human Influence on Threat Perception and Flight Distance in Urban-Area Ducks
- Jaclyn Calkins & Sam Ramirez abstract : poster3

Differences in Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) behavior in mating and non-­-mating situations
- Sofia Claesson & Lia Zallar abstract : poster
Student's Choice "Best Poster"

Which Fish? This Fish. Red Fish or Blue Fish?: Mate choice based on color in fancy guppies (Poecilia reticulata).
- Annelise Hill & Yasemin Lopez abstract : poster

Ethanol Habituation in Drosophila melanogaster
- Timothy Peters & Jesse Duhan abstract : poster4

Fight or Feed: food-seeking approach in Juvenile male garter snakes is dependent on body size
- Emily Merfeld & Nicolette Tapia abstract : poster

Lightweight or Party Animal? Sexual Dimorphism of Ethanol Tolerance in Drosophila melanogaster
- Mara Kaiser & Hayley VanderJagt abstract : poster

Canine Compensation: Size Does Matter
- Cecelia Erwin & Orian Evans abstract : poster

Scared Stiff by a Sniff: Behavioral response of Bombina orientalis tadpoles to a predator cue
- Audrey Spaeth abstract : poster

Agression in different environments
- Nick Morales & Patrick Shan abstract : poster

Bundling up for the Winter: Effects of Photoperiod on Thermotolerance and Circadian Rhythms in Drosophila melanogaster
- Krisin Hirata abstract : poster
Student's Choice "Best Science"

Cichlid Aggression Response to Convex and concave Mirrors4
- James Fisher-Smith & Mical Yohannes abstract : poster

Saving-Savvy Squirrels
- Kimmie McGowen & Madeline Robin abstract : poster

Mood Lighting: Can Colored Filters Make Male Guppies Sexier?
- Allie Buckner & Karl Menzel abstract : poster2

Unken Donuts: Sexual dimorphism and ontogenetic effects on the unken reflex
- Caleb Kalisher, Emma Schweitzer, & Michael Weiss abstract : poster


Unken Donuts: Sexual dimorphism and ontogenetic effects on the unken reflex
- Caleb Kalisher, Emma Schweitzer, & Michael Weiss
Defensive posture reflexes are observed across a wide variety of reptiles and amphibian species, despite large phylogenetic distance. Spanish Ribbed Newts engage/display an arched posture to emphasize exposure of their ribs, whereas T. granulosa salamanders show their bright red-yellow underside by bending their head and coiled tail backwards. Of particular interest is the Bombina orientalis, which exhibits a specific form of this behavior referred to as the unken reflex. While the general character of this behavior is well known, little research has been conducted investigating how it varies across demographic groups, environments, or its response to captive rearing. Here we examined its stimulation in lab and wild raised animals collected from forest and paddy environments to determine how the robustness of the response varies across these groups. Stimulation of this reflex was done by prodding the frogs' scapular region repeatedly, and the extent of the response was recorded on a predetermined behavioral scale. Our results indicated that female frogs were more likely than male frogs to respond to our stimulation with a "full" unken reflex (p=0.0176). Furthermore, we found that wild raised frogs were more likely than lab raised frogs to respond with at least a partial unken response (p=0.0176). We found no significant difference in response between environments. The results of this study give us more knowledge of the development of this behavior, as frogs raised in different environments behave differently. The difference observed between sexes suggest hormones and morphology may influence this behavior.

Mood Lighting: Can Colored Filters Make Male Guppies Sexier?
- Allie Buckner & Karl Menzel
Is there a way to cosmetically alter a guppy to make it more attractive? Based on previous research on guppy mate choice, we think male guppies behind an orange filter should appear sexier to a female guppy. We presented a female guppy with the option to interact with either a bright orange male or a yellow male separated by clear plastic, and used J Watcher to establish female preference. We then collected data on the proportion of time a female guppy spent with each male if we swapped out one clear filter for a yellow or orange filter. We found that orange filters actually make a guppy less attractive to a female. Additionally in the presence of a yellow filter, the female guppy found the orange guppy less attractive and no change in preference for the non-orange guppy. Our results imply that more orange might not be better for attracting mates. Future research might include determining how long it takes males to learn which side is more attractive to females.


Saving-Savvy Squirrels
- Kimmie McGowen & Madeline Robin
Eastern fox squirrels forage and cache food for future use. According to a study on squirrel foraging published in the Israeli Journal of Ecology and Evolution, "The value of cacheable food is highest proceeding lean periods.1" Due to the fluctuating value of cacheable food, it is expected that squirrels would spend more time foraging the two weeks after the first frost of autumn, which indicates the coming of winter. We developed a test to see how these foraging habits change as it get closer to winter, which is the time of nut deprivation for squirrels. This test was a month-long longitudinal study of the Eastern fox squirrel population that occupies Reed College's front lawn. Data was collected from 18 individuals beginning at the start of November and continued through the first week of December. We have concluded from our data collected that the amount of time the squirrels invested in foraging for food increased significantly after the first frost of the winter, which happened on November 13th 2014.


Cichlid Aggression Response to Convex and Concave Mirrors
- James Fisher-Smith & Mical Yohannes
Can concave and convex mirrors be used to simulate another individual of a disproportionate size to induce different aggression responses from cichlids? If so, one could cut down the amount of resources needed while also creating a more controlled environment for future aggression research. Putting a convex mirror in the tank distorted the perception of the cichlid by appearing to have introduced a larger cichlid and the concave simulated introducing a smaller cichlid. To evaluate these methods, we exposed male A. burtoni cichlids to either a concave or convex mirror for 10 minutes and recorded a focal sample with J-Watcher, using an ethogram that accounted for the following measures of aggression: flaring dorsal fins, biting, retreating, and their movements to different parts of the tank. It was assumed that any trend of divergence in these measures demonstrated an appreciable change in aggressive behavior. The mean number of attack on the concave mirror was 1.6, as compared to 0.6 on the convex mirror. When introducing the concave mirror, the cichlids were flaring their dorsal fins 39% of the time compared to 55% in the convex mirror. The cichlids were more likely to attack a larger opponent. One potential explanation is that introducing a larger cichlid may be perceived as more threatening, and may elicit an immediate aggressive response before the intruding cichlid settles in the tank. The next step would be to compare this divergences to those caused by real opponents.


Bundling up for the Winter: Effects of Photoperiod on Thermotolerance and Circadian Rhythms in Drosophila melanogaster
- Krisin Hirata
Many animals must adjust their behavior according to seasonal changes, yet much remains to be learned about the mechanisms by which they determine the season. This study explored which signals Drosophila melanogaster uses to determine the season. Is a change in the photoperiod sufficient to cause fruit flies to sense that the season has changed? More specifically, the experiment tested whether a shift in the photoperiod causes a change in the circadian rhythm, measured through the expression of a core clock protein, PER, and the thermotolerance of D. melanogaster. It has been previously shown that fruit flies raised under shorter, winter-like photoperiods have significantly shorter chill-coma recovery times and that PER levels peak at dawn during the winter and slightly after dawn during the summer. In the current study, flies were raised under varying photoperiods in a temperature-controlled incubator. Thermotolerance was gauged by placing flies on ice and determining their chill-coma recovery times. PER levels were measured using immunohistochemistry. Flies were collected immediately before "dawn," and their brains were removed. The brains were subsequently stained with a primary anti-PER antibody and a fluorescent secondary antibody and viewed using fluorescence microscopy. The brightness of stained cells was qualitatively assessed. There was no statistically significant effect of photoperiod on chill-coma recovery times. However, flies raised under a winter photoperiod (8 hours light: 16 hours dark) had significantly higher PER levels than flies raised under a summer photoperiod (16 hours light: 8 hours dark). These results suggest that a change in photoperiod is sufficient to cause a shift in the circadian rhythm of D. melanogaster, but not its thermotolerance.


Agression in different environments
- Nick Morales & Patrick Shan
Astatotilapia burtoni
is a species whose males are known for exhibiting unique markings and heightened territorial aggression. Additional research has suggested that aggression in these animals is dependent on their environment. Based on this research, our experiment attempted to identify any correlation between aggression levels of A. burton individuals and the amount of simulated rock debris in their environment. Two pairs of tanks were set up and each pair had a tank that contained either 3 or 25 pottery shards. Seven fish were placed inside of each tank and the fish behavior was observed using a combination of scan and 1/0 sampling. Our findings sort of suggest that fish in tanks with fewer pottery shards have higher aggression levels but it will require further research to account for difference in tank populations.


Scared Stiff by a Sniff: Behavioral response of Bombina orientalis tadpoles to a predator cue
- Audrey Spaeth
Many prey animals, especially those in aquatic environments, respond to chemical cues released by predators and/or injured conspecifics by modifying their behavior to reduce predation risk. This has been demonstrated in larvae of a number of amphibian species, with lower activity levels assumed to correspond to less detection by predators. However, there is little consensus over where the chemical cue originates. In order to help answer this question in the oriental fire-bellied toad (Bombina orientalis), tadpoles were raised with one of four treatments. These treatments were water exposed to the predatory three-spine stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus), water exposed to stickleback feeding on conspecifics, water exposed to crushed conspecifics, or a control. At approximately four weeks of age, the tadpoles were observed and scored for activity over multiple trials. Tadpoles exposed to stickleback feeding on conspecifics displayed significantly lower activity than tadpoles exposed to just stickleback or the control. With the removal of one outlier, tadpoles exposed to crushed conspecifics also had significantly lower activity than the control. This suggests B. orientalis tadpoles modify their behavior in response to chemical cues from conspecifics, but not necessarily from stickleback. Whether they are responding to so-called "alarm cues" released from stressed conspecifics, or "predator cues" from crushed bodies of conspecifics is unknown. B. orientalis may have no innate aversion to stickleback because stickleback may be a non-native predator, or because the tadpoles rely on conspecific chemical cue information exclusively, regardless of the species of predator.


Canine Compensation: Size Does Matter
- Cecelia Erwin & Orian Evan
Previous research has found that dog behavior is directly influenced by the animal's size (McGreevy et al. 2013). Decreased height and weight is positively correlated with undesirable behavior. However, the previous research did not account for the dog's training: we suspected that this pattern may be due to reduced training for smaller dogs, as undesirable behavior is more likely to be tolerated in smaller animals. To investigate this hypothesis, we observed dog behavior at Woodstock Dog Park over a series of days. Using an ethogram based off undesirable behaviors designated by the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-­BARQ), we observed dogs for 10 minutes and took pictures in order to analyse height using ImageJ. A brief owner survey provided weight, breed and training history. Analysis found that there was a statistically significant negative relationship between both dog weight and height in total undesirable behaviors performed and a statically significant positive relationship between hours of training per week and dog weight and height. Larger dogs performed fewer undesirable behaviors than small dogs and received more hours of training per week. These results confirm our hypothesis and inform our understanding that undesirable behavior in small dogs is not due to morphological differences between small and large dogs, but differences in human management of dogs of different sizes.


Lightweight or Party Animal? Sexual Dimorphism of Ethanol Tolerance in Drosophila melanogaster
- Mara Kaiser & Hayley VanderJagt
The common fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) can use ethanol as a food source. However, they are not impervious to the deleterious effects of ethanol. These effects include the inability to fly correctly, the inability to perch on a vertical surface, and an apparent lack of consciousness. Recent studies have revealed that flies may be sexually dimorphic when it comes to alcohol metabolism (Devineni, 2012). Our experiment was designed to investigate the heritability of ethanol tolerance in D. melanogaster, and whether or not high or low tolerance to ethanol makes the sexually dimorphic response more pronounced. This multi-generational study sought to artificially select D. melanogaster for ethanol tolerance over four generations. Groups of 50 male and female D. melanogaster were introduced into an inebriometer and subjected to ethanol vapor. By the second generation, high tolerance flies exhibited significant sexual dimorphism in ethanol tolerance with respect to time elapsed in the apparatus (p>0.0073), whereas low tolerance flies did not show statistically significant sexual dimorphism in ethanol tolerance with respect to time elapsed (p>0.2522). Although additional generations could not be successfully bred and tested due to an incubator malfunction, our first round of selection alone successfully demonstrated the heritability of ethanol tolerance in D. melanogaster and its correlation with sexual dimorphism.4


Fight or Feed: food-seeking approach in Juvenile male garter snakes is dependent on body size
- Emily Merfeld & Nicolette Tapia
Garter snakes have been shown to aggressively guard limited resources such as preferred food sources, habitat, and mates. Previous studies have also shown that larger males acquire these resources at a higher rate, succeeding in more male-to-male rivalries and producing more offspring via forced insemination. The present study examines the role of body size on acquisition of a limited food resource in male juvenile red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis). In five 45 minute sessions with access to ground nightcrawler worms, the latency to approach the feeding dish and the number of fights were recorded for each individual. Results showed that larger individuals had the lowest latency of approach and highest number of fights per trial. This relationship between body size and exploratory / aggressive behavior in situations in which individuals must gain access to a limited resource may be evidence of a sized-based dominance hierarchy in male garter snake populations.


Ethanol Habituation in Drosophila melanogaster
- Timothy Peters & Jesse Duhan
Drosophila melanogaster are a prominent genetic and behavioral model for human alcohol-related research. We studied whether Drosophila, like humans, exhibit consistent sensitivity and gradual tolerance increases with daily exposure to ethanol. Sexed flies were sorted into tolerance categories based upon time taken to elute from an inebriometer, an ethanol-filled column containing stacked mesh baffles that may be gripped as intoxicated individuals lose their ability to fly. Each of these categories (sensitive [0-6 min.], intermediate [7-20 min.], and resistant [21+ min.]) was then independently re-tested and re-sorted every 24 hrs. to assess drift in sensitivity. Successive tests revealed that sensitive and intermediate male and female groups maintained significantly consistent tolerance, with some evidence of conferred tolerance. This suggests that Drosophila are genetically predisposed to tolerate specific levels of ethanol, and will develop resistance over time.


Which Fish? This Fish. Red Fish or Blue Fish?: Mate choice based on color in fancy guppies (Poecilia reticulata).
- Annelise Hill & Yasemin Lopez
Do animals prefer to associate and mate with individuals of similar genetic strains and phenotypes? Mate choice is an important field of study within animal behavior. Fancy guppies (Poecilia reticulata) are a popular species of aquarium fish, they are generally easy to keep alive, they reproduce quickly, and the males come in various dramatic bright colors. These traits make guppies a model organism for study. Bright colors, along with size and tail size, have been selectively bred for. Males with unusual traits are bred with females of the same strain to exaggerate these qualities. We look at mate choice through questioning whether female fancy guppies naturally prefer males of their own color or if they prefer males of a different phenotype. We tested the hypothesis that female guppies will choose mates of the same color type. We conducted an experiment in which females, blue and red individuals, were given a choice between a blue male and a red male. We measured the amount of time the females spent next to the blue male, red male, and in the middle of the tank, to measure their preference. Our results showed that our hypothesis that both colors of female prefer mates of their color was incorrect. We did find that red and blue females choose their mates differently. Red females were more likely to choose a male of the same color, while blue females were more likely to choose a male of a different color, albeit less strongly. This could be indicative of either red males being very attractive to females based on color or vibrancy, or of a difference in the way blue and red females choose mates.


Differences in Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) behavior in mating and non-­-mating situations
- Sofia Claesson & Lia Zallar
Elephants are very social animals, and their group behaviors are complex and varied. Increased knowledge of reproductive behavior is especially important in the context of elephants in zoos, both for animal well-­-being and species preservation. Through analysis of videos of elephants provided by the Oregon Zoo, this study aimed to investigate how courtship behavior differs from non-­-reproductive behavior and alters interactions between two elephants, Tusko (male) and Shine (female). The zoo provided an ethogram of group behaviors, which was modified for our purposes. Two observers scored each elephant in the videos and recorded behavior. The frequency of each behavior for each elephant was compared based on whether or not copulation occurred. Our findings indicate that there are trending differences in elephant behavior between reproductive and non-­-reproductive contexts. For Tusko, this included an increase in initiation of physical contact and aggressive behavior. In contrast, Shine's behavior in most cases was more stable across conditions, with the exception of her response to Tusko's aggressive behavior. For future research the ethogram could be expanded to include a wider scope of aggressive behaviors. This was a preliminary study on behavior, only examining two specific elephants. Further studies could test if these trends are also present in Asian elephants at other zoos or in the wild.


Friend or Foe? Examining Human Influence on Threat Perception and Flight Distance in Urban-Area Ducks
- Jaclyn Calkins & Sam Ramirez
In urban areas, feeding ducks at local duck ponds is a popular and common pastime. However, throughout most of evolutionary history, living in such close proximity to potential predators such as humans likely posed more of a threat to ducks than is now the case. Since feeding at ponds is now a potentially lucrative food source for ducks, we investigated whether or not urban ducks have evolved the ability to perceive whether or not an approaching human represents a source of food or a possible threat. We measured flight distance (distance at which the birds would flee when approached) in meters in ducks at four different locations under the following conditions: - Food: Being approached by a human holding a visible piece of bread - Threat: Being approached by a human holding an outstretched bath towel We found that there was a significant difference in flight distance between the two conditions (p=<0.0001). In addition, we found that ducks' responses varied between the different populations we visited (p=0.0044). This could mean that some populations were more accustomed to human interaction than others. Although we cannot conclude that this is a recently evolved ability, our data suggests that ducks can detect differences in the intentions of an approaching human.


Pleiotropic effects of selection for ethanol sensitivity on aggression in D.melanogaster
- Leah Cepko & Mason Kennon
Pleiotropy is known to be an important mechanism by which behavioral traits are regulated and expressed. Quantitative trait loci analysis in Apis mellifera has demonstrated that genes known to contribute to ethanol sensitivity and aggression are closely linked. However, little is known about the potential pleiotropic effects of selection on genes related to alcohol metabolism affecting genes related to aggression. Considerable research has been conducted on the genetic and physiological mechanisms underlying the phenotypic differences between lines artificially selected by different exposure to ethanol of Drosophila melanogaster. No research to date has investigated the potential difference in effect of alcohol consumption between these lines and natural populations on male conspecific aggression. In order to test the potential interaction between ethanol treatment and genotype, we delivered a 6% ethanol solution (with 6% sucrose) to isolated male D. melanogaster individuals and measured the latency of individuals from the same line to engage in aggressive behaviors, as well as the total number of aggressive acts observed in a 3-minute period. The data show a dynamic, involving changes in the correlation between latency to engage and total aggressive acts observed in different conditions, suggesting a pleiotropic mechanism regulating ethanol sensitivity and aggression. This demonstrates that selection on a single trait can result in pleiotropic effects on seemingly unrelated behavioral phenotypes.



In lab the week after break

Use the Project Management Template to plan your indpendent project.
You must turn this in before you leave lab (hard copy or posted to the server) in addition to a timelin taped to the white board.

Where a grant proposal emphasizes the strengths and feasibility of a project, putting the best spin on everything, a project management plan is meant to help identify potential difficulties before they arrise. As part of the assignment, you will construct ahelpful timeline of work to be done (in project management speak this is called a Ghant Chart).

Abstracts :: due date Dec 10th.

An abstract (~250 word) with a descriptive (fun) title and the authors names.
This should describe:
- the "Big Question"
- the specific area of research
- the general technique or approach applied,
- the major results found and conclusion that can be drawn.
Please post these to the server by 5:00 PM on date:
/ 342 Animal Behavior/Ind_Project_stuff/Abstracts

Poster Presentation :: Dec 16th.

Tips for making and Presenting a Poster template1, template2,

During the poster session, students will be required to visit several posters and to formally evaluate at least two posters using the standard evaluation forms that will be provided in class.

You must also save a copy of your final poster on the server!

Assessment :: day after poster session

Each student will individually assess his/her own effort and success in relation to the group.
Use this worksheet. Return this to Suzy in hard copy or email.

Each student will assess 2 posters/presentations with a form that will be provided at the poster session.
Hand these in at the end of the poster session.

Equipment available includes:

temperature controlled incubators
audio recording equipment
video recording equipment
spotting scope
laptop computers for Jwatcher studies
general molecular biology equipment
anything used during course work
Arrangements can be made for repeated access to the zoo

Appropriate animals include:

Any wild animals easily acccessible for field observations.
Any animals used during previous labs are available.
Any Drosophila mutant or strain availble at the Bloomington Stock Center (needs 3-4 weeks advance notice)
House crickets
Tanganyikan cichlids available in the Renn Lab (Astatotilapia burtioni)
Wild caught sticklebacks from the canyon.


General level of engagement throughout the 6 weeks
Poster Presentation and Participation at Poster Session
Lab Notebooks (one per group is sufficient, though individuals must note their own contributions clearly)