Dr. Jennifer A. Clarke

Behavioral Ecology

I always urge students to follow their passion. My passion is the study of behavioral ecology.

Dr. Jennifer Clarke

My students and I have focused our research on two unrelated areas of behavior: acoustic communication and the effect of moonlight on activity.  Our studies have involved birds (owls and ptarmigan), reptiles (rattlesnakes and treesnakes) and a wide variety of mammal species (wolves, dingoes, dogs, tigers, raccoons, coatis, flying foxes, deer mice, kangaroo rats, flying squirrels, Tasmanian devils, and elk).

Sumatran Tiger

Tigers are one of the world’s most recognizable big cats and all surviving subspecies are critically endangered. Despite the need to understand tiger behavior in order to enhance captive care and conservation efforts, tiger communication is poorly understood. Ours was the first study to measure the acoustic characteristics of multiple, distinctly different Sumatran tiger sounds and to link the sounds to behavioral contexts.

Tasmanian DevilWe have a similar study of communication with Tasmanian devils in which we have focused on one critical vocalization that appears to decrease aggression and increase cooperation between devils. Furthermore, the absence of this call may be linked to the spread of the infectious cancer (Devil Facial Tumor Disease) driving the species to extinction.

ElkCONSERVATION & COMMUNICATION – Elk and Ptarmigan

North American elk are an iconic species in the western US, and populations are being reestablished in parts of their original range in the eastern US where they had been extirpated.  Although elk are popular in our national parks as “watchable wildlife” and elsewhere as a game species, the function of the males’ haunting bugle calls remains unknown. The bugle call has been assumed to attract females and repel rival males but no data exist supporting those functions. My research aims to identify the function of the bugle and determine if isolated populations exhibit “dialect” differences.

White-tailed Ptarmigan by Alan MacKeiganThe White-tailed Ptarmigan is an alpine grouse, which is predicted to be a bird most critically affected by warming temperatures. We have documented that the hens teach (a surprisingly rare behavior in the animal world) the chicks which plant foods to consume.  With changing temperatures, plant phenology (e.g. flowering) will be altered. We propose to examine how this may affect foraging behavior of the hens and chicks that rely on the spring flowers and new leaves for forage in the alpine. Image courtesy of Alan MacKeigan.

MOONLIGHT & LIGHT POLLUTION – Flying Squirrels

Flying Squirrel The student-led project on southern flying squirrels is an investigation of diet and activity patterns. Pilot data have revealed that the flying squirrels are extremely sensitive to any nocturnal light level. Regardless of the phase of the moon, they concentrate their nocturnal activity to the darkest hours before the moon has risen or after the moon has set. These findings indicate that light pollution from human sources would restrict the foraging behavior of flying squirrels and could negatively impact their survival.