Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

E. Bowers

Committee Member

Michael Ferkin

Committee Member

David Freeman

Committee Member

Cassie Nuñez

Committee Member

Jim Adelman


In this dissertation, I investigate the adaptive function of behavioral plasticity related to reproductive strategies in wild songbirds. Specifically, I uncover how various social, physiological, and environmental factors shape dynamics of conflict and cooperation between parents and offspring and among siblings. I performed 2 multi-year field experiments in which I cross-fostered nestlings between broods of wild songbirds, manipulating nestling size asymmetries (in Carolina wrens) and brood size (in prothonotary warblers) while including relevant controls. I observed nests during two developmental stages and used an intricate scoring protocol to quantify nestling begging dynamics, parental feeding decisions, and the distribution of food within broods. With these data, I reveal which signals parents utilize to make feeding decisions under different circumstances, and how, over the course of the nestling period, the compounded results of these decisions shape the fitness prospects of each family member. As individual birds produce broods that vary both in nestling size asymmetries and brood sizes, these studies help elucidate the adaptive value of maintaining this plasticity and shed light on the conditions that may favor some parental investment strategies over others. Lastly, I explore how the extent of male parental care shapes family dynamics in prothonotary warblers, a polygynous songbird in which male parental care is highly variable. I unravel how females optimize the tradeoff between male quality and parental contribution over time by adjusting properties of the brood and her own investment strategies based on qualities of her mate. Together, the studies of this dissertation contribute much-needed empirical research to the scientific literature on family cooperation and conflict and help us better understand how complex social interactions act as a selective force shaping the tremendous variation in reproductive strategies observed in nature.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest.


Embargoed until 10/18/2024

Available for download on Wednesday, April 22, 2026