Amy Strauss

PhD Candidate

B.A., Whitman College, 2009

Advisor: Jeffrey E. Podos

Research Interests

AS & SSMy research examines the role that ecological factors play in shaping avian vocal communication systems. In many animal species, acoustic communication functions in regulating intraspecific interactions. In territorial species, long-range signals in particular are used to keep competitors at a distance and to catch the attention of potential mates. Growing evidence suggests that territorial songbirds are highly discerning when listening to acoustic signals, and that even slight signal variation can elicit predictably differential responses. This pattern is presumably due to the fact that vocal signals contain useful information about the quality and location of singers such that listeners can adjust their behavioral responses based on discrimination of variable song characteristics and the information contained therein. However, there are many environmental obstacles to sound transmission in nature that threaten signal fidelity during long-range acoustic communication. For example, songs may be subject to distance-dependent degradation, habitat-dependent degradation, or climatic interference while transmitting between the 'sender bird' and the 'receiver bird'. Effective communication is closely linked to reproductive success, so selection is expected to favor song types that maintain signal efficacy despite the structural degradation that results from these environmental obstacles. Selection is also expected to favor individual behaviors that maximize effective signal transmission (by the sender) and/or signal reception (by the receiver). I'm fascinated by the ways in which bird communication systems have evolved under these pressures.

For my dissertation work, I'm pursuing field research in Western Massachusetts as well as lab research on the UMass campus to investigate how the acoustic degradation of song across distance influences territorial communication, song learning, signal perception, and related population processes in songbirds, with song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) and swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana) as my focal species.

Prior to joining the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology graduate program here at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, I worked in the Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History. During my undergraduate career at Whitman College, I performed senior thesis research examining the effects of habitat on geographic patterns of song sharing in Dickcissels (Spiza americana) with Dr. Tim Parker.

Melospiza melodia       Playback speaker


Podos, J., Moseley, D. L., Goodwin, S. E., McClure, J., Taft, B. N., Strauss, A. V. H., Rega-Brodsky, C., & Lahti, D.C. A Fine-Scale, Broadly-Applicable Index of Vocal Performance: Frequency Excursion. Animal Behaviour 116 (2016): 203-212.