Jenevieve Norton: Understanding the Nesting Habits of the Lance-tailed Manakin

My name is Jenevieve Norton, and I am in my junior year as a biology major at Florida State University. For the past two years, I have been involved in Emily DuVal’s lab researching lance-tailed manakins (Chiroxiphia lanceolata). Lance-tailed manakins are a small passerine bird found in dry and deciduous tropical forests. Our study population is located in Isla Boca Brava, Panama. The lance-tailed manakin is a lekking species, meaning the males display in a fixed location, and mate with multiple females, take no part in offspring care, and provide no resources for females. After observing dances by several males, the female chooses a mate. Females choose their mates carefully, visiting the same male many times before choosing a mate. Females also raise the young alone, independently from males.

Previously in the lab, I assisted graduate students with their projects, and spent a lot of time analyzing behavior from videos of these birds, but with the IDEA grant I have developed an independent project that will take me into the forest of Panama. I am studying the causes and consequences of nest-site fidelity in lance-tailed manakin females. Nest-site fidelity is when an individual returns to raise young in the same area for multiple breeding efforts. Understanding nest-site fidelity is one way to understand how individuals make choices to better their chances of survival as well as the survival of their offspring. I am interested in seeing what factors influence the individual choice in choosing a particular nest-site.

Lance-tailed manakin female on her nest. Photo by Carla Vanderbilt

This summer I will test several hypotheses about why females are sometimes nest-site faithful. Females may be more faithful to nesting sites when they have past success raising chicks there or may switch nest-sites when they switch mates. Furthermore, I have two additional hypotheses to test the consequences of nest-site fidelity. I hypothesize that females that show nest-site fidelity are more likely to survive until the following breeding season, and chicks are more likely to fledge if their mothers renest in previously used nest area. These hypotheses will be analyzed with data collected over the previous 22 years as well as the data I will collect in the field this summer.

Chicks with their bands on. Photo by Emily DuVal.

Over the summer, I will travel to Isla Boca Brava, Panama to participate in the field season and to gather data for my project. Our study site has been active since 1999, and the new data collected in the field will be added and analyzed to a big existing database. In the field, I will have the opportunity to monitor nests, put bands on the birds for identification, learn how to collect blood samples for genetic analysis, and begin to gather new data to understand what might influence nest-site fidelity. For example, this year large portions of land were cleared from the field site by human neighbors. This has happened in the past as well, and by taking GPS coordinates of cleared areas I can see if females who have shown nest-site fidelity in the past were forced to move by the forest clearing. Once I return from Panama, I will learn lab techniques on the FSU campus and take part in analyzing some of the samples we will collect in the field.

Courtesy of Cornell University.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to go to Panama and execute this project. After watching recordings of the manakins for two years, I am so excited to finally see and observe them in person. Once I complete this project, I hope to write a paper to submit for publication. I also plan on presenting my work at the Animal Behavior Society conference, in addition to the Presidential Showcase of Undergraduate Excellence. After my undergraduate studies, I hope to gain a Ph. D. in animal behavior and pursue a career in academia. I am excited to take the steps of getting involved in field work and carrying out my own project and building the foundation for my career in academia and science.

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