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My research integrates animal behavior and physiology in the wild to answer both applied and basic questions, using feral horses as a model system. Much of my current research has focused on the unintended side effects of contraception management on the behavior and physiology of feral horses. My research has shown that contracepted mares are less loyal to the band stallion; they change social groups more often, particularly during the non-breeding season. In addition, contracepted mares extend reproductive cycling into the non-breeding season. How do these changes in behavior and reproductive physiology affect other members of the population? For example, has there been an increase in the escalation of male-male conflicts in an attempt to retain contracepted mares? Are levels of stress, measured through fecal cortisol, higher in groups that include more contracepted mares? Furthermore, how might the use of immunocontraception affect population fitness? Does stimulation of the immune system to achieve infertility select for individuals with low immunocompetence? Answers to these questions can help managers make more ethical and responsible decisions regarding the population control of species.
I am also interested in the dynamics at play between mothers and their offspring. For example, how do differences in mothering strategy contribute to offspring survival? What can differences in the communicative behaviors of mothers and infants tell us about the function of communication for different individuals? What do we really know about adoption in the wild? Answers to these questions can help researchers better understand the function of the juvenile stage in mammals and the importance of maternal effort and style to recruitment.