Back to blogging and a brief catch up!

Wow, it is amazing how time flies in grad school. It is hard to believe that is has been over four months since the last time I blogged! The main reason for my lack of blogging these past several months has been my work load. I ended up biting off a little more than I could chew, work-wise, this semester, which kept me from dedicating time to blogging. Luckily, I can say with confidence that I now have much more time to dedicate to this blog and it will not just disappear! Plus, I have a lot of exciting prospects in the future to talk about, so there will be no shortage of material to write about!

While most of the work things that kept me from blogging were not to exciting, I still had some very exciting events occur during that time. Firstly, I was awarded the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for $20,085!!!!! This was an amazing and huge success that will go a long way towards some exciting new research ventures. I was also awarded a United States Agency for International Research and Innovation Fellowship and an Arizona State University Graduate College Completion Fellowship!! Combined these grants and fellowships are allowing me to expand my research to studying hummingbirds in Peru and conduct electron microscopy on hummingbird feathers (both scanning “SEM” and transmission “TEM” electron microscopy). The electron microscopy work will allow me to quantify the surface and internal structures of hummingbird feathers that are responsible for producing the amazing colors hummingbirds exhibit, while the trip to Peru will allow me to study several new species for my dissertation work, such as the Peruvian sheartail and oasis hummingbird. Below are a few photos of some scanning electron microscopy work I have done so far.

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A scanning electron microscopy image of a black-chinned hummingbird purple throat feather.
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Another scanning electron microscopy image looking down some barbs of a broad-tailed hummingbird pink throat feather.

In addition to getting these grants and fellowships, I also gave my first set of public seminars on my hummingbird dissertation research. I first gave an hour long seminar to the Maricopa Audubon Society (link) and then gave another hour long seminar through the Audubon’s Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch’s Potluck and Presentations series (link). Both of these talks were great experiences, and they seemed to be met with enthusiasm from the audience, which was very encouraging.

Outside of grants and talks I did some fieldwork in March on Costa’s and Allen’s hummingbirds, visited the Grand Canyon and Sedona, went on some adventures in Michigan, and visited my undergraduate university (Trinity University). I will try to make a post out of each of these, but here are a few photos from each.

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A Costa’s hummingbird perched at Boyd Deep Canyon in California.
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An Allen’s hummingbird I filmed and caught in Riverside, California.
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A view from the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
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The beautiful red rocks near Sedona, AZ.
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A sizable waterfall at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan.
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Looking out at Lake Michigan over the the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.
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One of the newly remodeled and awesome science buildings at Trinity University.

 

I greatly appreciate everyone’s patients with my lack of posting, but I am very happy to be back and excited to start blogging again! I would also like to give a shout out to my old school friends from Houston – Gabe and Carl. Thank you for keeping up with my blog!!

Until next time!
Rick

My First First-Author Paper!

I just recently had my first first-author paper accepted for publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B! The paper was the result of work I started as an undergrad at Trinity University, where I worked with both Troy Murphy (link) and Michele Johnson (link) on my honors thesis. It is crazy to think that I started this work four years ago. Briefly, we were Pine warblertesting a novel hypothesis to explain the geographic patterns of sexual differences in coloration in wood-warblers. The geographic pattern is that prothonotary warbleras you move north away from the equator, birds (not just wood-warblers) seem to exhibit greater differences in coloration between the sexes (sexual dichromatism). We hypothesized that this pattern was driven by evolutionary increases in the distance species migrated. We thought that longer migration distances would be costly to individuals, which would select against being colorful, which is also costly. However, males gain great benefits by being colorful since they use their coloration to attract Wilson's warblermates (females do not do this), so we predicted that males would maintain their coloration while females would lose it – thus the observed geographic pattern. Through our work, we found that this hypothesis was indeed supported! Check out the paper here. Excitingly, this paper has been picked up by several science news outlets, such as Science, Nature, and IFL Science. Be sure to check them out as well!