Sydney joined the Hopkins lab in August 2014. Her general research interests include animal behavior and physiology and how they are affected by changes to the environment at all stages in life. She is studying wood ducks to investigate how clutch size affects incubation temperature parameters and how differences in incubation temperature affect duckling behaviors that are critical to early survival.

Sydney graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2014 with a B.S. in Biology. During her undergraduate career, she studied the effects of springtime temperature and urban habitat on the molt dynamics of the Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) in natural and urban populations in New Jersey.

In Summer 2013, she participated in an REU with Indiana University. She conducted a project investigating how stress affects aggressive behavior in Oregon juncos (Junco hyemalis) in a natural population and a newly colonized population in Los Angeles, California.

Sydney is currently investigating how clutch size in wood ducks affects incubation temperature parameters and female incubation behavior. Wood ducks exhibit high levels of conspecific brood parasitism, wherein females lay eggs in other nests. Large clutch sizes may be more difficult for wood duck hens to incubate optimally, and any effects of clutch size on incubation temperature or female behavior may reveal a constraint on the evolution of larger clutch sizes and an overlooked cost of brood parasitism.

SydneyHope_duck box_sm

In the summer of 2014, the Hopkins lab created model duck eggs with temperature loggers inside them and used these to monitor incubation temperatures throughout the wood duck breeding season at Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Sydney is analyzing the temperature data to determine the effects of clutch size on thermal dynamics of the nest as well as behavior of the incubating hens.

Sydney is also interested in the effects of the early environment on offspring development and is investigating the effect of incubation temperature on the exploratory and boldness behaviors, neuroendocrinology, nest exodus performance, and competition for heat and food in wood ducklings. Because incubation temperature is regulated by parental behavior, environmental changes such as climate change and human disturbance may affect adult incubation behavior, and thus incubation temperature. Previous research has shown that incubation temperature has many effects on offspring morphology and physiology, but its effects on behavior are unknown. Behavior is important to understand because it is the means by which animals interact with their environment, whether it is food, a predator, or a conspecific. Any affects of incubation temperature on offspring behavior may reveal subtle but substantial effects of environmental change.

In the future, Sydney would like to expand her research to explore how clutch size may affect the incubating parent’s physiology, such as prolactin levels, and how the early developmental environment may influence other aspects of offspring physiology, such as the microbiome.

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