New Orleans research

Tulane’s position in southern Louisiana presents unparalleled opportunities to pursue research questions of both broader ecological relevance and considerable local interest. In the urban New Orleans neighborhoods surrounding Tulane University, we are assessing how exposure to lead impacts health and behavior of an iconic songbird, the northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos. This work is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Renata Ribeiro and Dr. Howard Mielke, both of Tulane. Work on other systems has demonstrated that exposure to high levels of lead can be lethal for wildlife, but few have explored the consequences of chronic, sub-lethal exposure that is more typical of urban wildlife and pets. Previous work in the lab suggests that lead levels in mockingbird adults, nestlings and eggs may be correlated with environmental lead, and that higher lead levels are associated with hyper-aggressive behavior.

Annelise Blanchette is now furthering this work by developing cognitive behavior assays that can be applied to adult mockingbirds in the field. She is also considering ways to measure the physiological impact of lead on mockingbirds through endocrine and genomic mechanisms. This work is in early stages, but is likely to have important implications for pet owners, veterinarians, and professionals that manage urban wildlife.



Gulf Coast Ecology


Our Gulf coast research has focused on the foraging ecology of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), an iconic symbol of the Gulf and a top predator that presents a valuable opportunity to explore applied questions as well as those with broader implications for behavioral ecology. In collaboration with Dr. Paul Leberg from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Brock Geary used GPS telemetry to collect high-resolution movement and foraging data to better understand how individuals modify foraging behaviors during the demanding breeding season, and how these different ‘strategies’ may allow individuals to weather the effects of environmental instability.


Related Publications


McClelland, S.T., R.D. Ribeiro, H.W. Mielke, M.E. Finkelstein, C.R. Gonzalez, J.A. Jones, J. Komdeur, E. Derryberry, E.B. Saltzberg, and J. Karubian. 2018. Sub-lethal exposure to lead is associated with heightened aggression in an urban songbird. Science of the Total Environment. 654: 593-603. PDF


Geary, B., S.T. Walter, P.L. Leberg, and J. Karubian. 2018. Condition-dependent foraging strategies in a coastal seabird: evidence that the rich get richer. Behavioral Ecology. 30: 356-363. PDF


Geary B, S.M. Longest, K. Ottewell, S.M. Lantz, S.T. Walter, J. Karubian, and P.L. Leberg 2017. Genetic structure of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) in the northern Gulf of Mexico in the context of human management and disturbance. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185309. PDF


Walter, S. T., M. R. Carloss, T. J. Hess, and P. Leberg. 2014. Demographic trends of Brown Pelicans in Louisiana before and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Journal of Field Ornithology 85:4 421-429. PDF


Walter, S.T., P. L. Leberg, J. J. Dindo, and J. Karubian. 2014. Factors influencing Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) foraging movement patterns during the breeding season. Canadian Journal of Zoology 92:885-891. PDF


Walter, S.T., M.R. Carloss, T.J. Hess, G. Athrey, and P.L. Leberg. 2013. Brown Pelican movement patterns and population structure. Condor 115:788-799. PDF


Walter, S.T., M.R. Carloss, T.J. Hess, and P.L. Leberg. 2013. Hurricane, habitat degradation, and land loss effects on Brown Pelican nesting colonies. Journal of Coastal Research 29:187-195. PDF


Walter, S.T., M.R. Carloss, T.J. Hess, G. Athrey, and P.L. Leberg. 2013. Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) colony initiation attempts: Translocations and decoys. Waterbirds 36:53-62. PDF