I am broadly interested in the evolution of sociality. Social systems are the products of behavioral strategies of individuals. I study how conflicts of interest arising from group-living are resolved through the evolution of alternative behavioral strategies. My studies have focused on parent-offspring conflict, reproductive parasitism, and other conflicts arising from sociality. I am particularly interested in how ecological, social and genetic factors interact in shaping the evolution of parasitic and cooperative breeding strategies. Measuring kinship is fundamental to understanding conflicts of interest. My research integrates field observation and experimental work on populations of marked individuals with molecular genetic determination of relatedness.
In one ongoing project, I am studying how ecological factors affect the evolution of conspecific brood parasitism in the common moorhen. This is augmented by comparative analysis of related species of rail (Family: Rallidae). Host responses to brood parasitism are expected to vary in relation to the risk of parasitism and the cost of parasitism to the host. One principal question is: Among populations with varying rates of conspecific brood parasitism, are host responses predictable from ecological, genetic and social factors?
Since 2006, I have been collaborating with David Lank (Simon Fraser University, Canada) investigating the evolution and behavior of female mimics among ruff sandpipers. Female mimics represent a permanent male morph that retain female plumage throughout the breeding season, and exhibit a unique behavioral repertoire on the lek (mating arena). We are currently conducting breeding experiments to look at the inheritance pattern of this morph.
Conservation is a strong motivation for my research, and I am becoming increasingly involved in avian conservation projects through collaborations with David Lank (Tuamotu sandpipers in French Polynesia), and Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Center (captive breeding programs).
Recent Publications (*student author)
*Stang, A.T. and S.B. McRae 2008. Why some rails have white tails: the evolution of white undertail plumage and anti-predator signaling. Evolutionary Ecology DOI 10.1007/s10682-008-9283-z
McRae, S.B., Emlen, S.T., *Rubenstein, D.R. and S.M. Bogdanowicz 2005. Polymorphic microsatellite loci in a plural breeder, the grey-capped social weaver (Pseudonigrita arnaudi), isolated with an improved enrichment protocol using fragment size selection. Molecular Ecology Notes 5:16-20.
Jamieson, I.G., McRae, S.B., *Trewby, M. and R.E. Simmons 2000. High rates of conspecific brood parasitism and egg rejection in coots and moorhens in ephemeral wetlands in Namibia. Auk 117: 250-252.
McRae, S.B. 1998. Relative reproductive success of female moorhens using conditional strategies of brood parasitism and parental care. Behavioral Ecology 9:93-100.
McRae, S.B. 1996. Family values: costs and benefits of communal breeding in the moorhen. Animal Behaviour 52:225-245.
McRae, S.B., Weatherhead, P.J. and R. Montgomerie 1993. American robin nestlings compete by jockeying for position. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 33:101-106.
BIOL 1200 Principles in Biology II (2001 – present)
BIOL 1201 Principles in Biology II, Lab Coordinator (Aug. 2002 – 2008),
Faculty Advisor (2008 - present)
BIOL 3740, 3741 Animal Behavior, Animal Behavior Lab (2007 – present)
BIOL 4400 Terrestrial Field Ecology: Summer Study Abroad in Panama (2009 - present)
BIOL 5070, 5071 Ornithology, Ornithology Lab (2000 – present)
Current Undergraduate Students
Former M.S. students
Debbie's thesis explored the pattern of sex ratios within broods of moorhens and related these to clutch size and order, parental attributes and seasonal variables.
|Adaptive sex ratio manipulation in the common moorhen (completed May 2009)
Debbie is now working through a contract from the NC Department of Transportation surveying wildlife at risk from the widening of Highway 64 in eastern North Carolina.
Undergraduate Alumni (current position)
Alexandra Stang (medical student, Brody School of Medicine)
Charles Hoots (veterinary student, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University)
Carlyle Rogers (PhD candidate, Dept. of Pharmacology, ECU)
Haley Cleckner (MS student, Dept. of Geography, ECU)
Hannah Tomczak (research specialist, Dept. of Anaesthesiology, Univ. of Pennsylvania)
Mark Dobransky (Pitt County Memorial Hospital)
Emily Bruckner (BA student, Dept. of Psychology, ECU)