We are interested in the proximate mechanisms and functions of wildlife behavior, under natural conditions. By identifying the role of steroid hormones, we hope to gain a better understanding of the development and expression of social behaviors, and tap into their adaptive value. Our study aims are to understand the trade-offs involved with the functional attributes of glucocorticoids and androgens on one hand, and fitness on the other hand. For example, we study the underlying hormonal mechanisms that are related to survival, mate choice, reproduction, social behavior, sexual allocation, communication, and parental behaviors. We thrive to understand individual variation in life history strategies and behavioral phenotypes. We are also interested in differences between males and females in the hormonal underpinning of behaviors. We incorporate morphometric data obtained through wildlife captures, molecular and behavioral information on paternity and relatedness, integrated long-term steroids levels, and observations of social behaviors in free ranging animals, in their natural habitat. We use these tools to collect valuable information on the well-being of individuals, groups, and populations in natural ecosystems, and in environments that are affected by human disturbances.
Our approach is to follow individuals and groups over years in their natural surroundings. We observe multiple life history stages, and follow long term social relationships. Long-term studies allow us to detect changes in behavioral strategies, and relate them to ongoing social processes. In addition, we measure long-term integrated steroid levels from multiple matrices that are sampled non-invasively from wildlife. For example, hair-testing allows quantification of free steroids that are relevant to stable and consistent behaviors or situations (i.e., as opposed to total, including bound steroids found in blood, or metabolites found in feces and urine). One of the advantages to this approach is that samples are unaffected by the stress of capture and handling. Taken together, our studies offer unique insights on the long-term costs and advantages associated with hormones and social behavior.