My primary research interest is in sexual selection in social mammals. In my dissertation, I'm exploring various aspects of sexual selection in spotted hyenas. For example, how are males competing intrasexually? Higher-ranking males traditionally have higher annual reproductive outputs than lower-ranking males, and until now it has been assumed that this is due to an endurance rivalry. I will be formally testing this hypothesis and exploring what it really means to "endure." I will also be testing alternative hypotheses for mechanisms of intrasexual competition in male Crocuta, such as sperm competition.
Another component of my dissertation will investigate possible functions of baiting behavior. Baiting, in which multiple males will form a coalition and mob a higher-ranking adult female, is quite unique in mammals, making it particularly interesting. There is some evidence that baiting is related to reproduction, for sexually receptive females do get baited more often than non-receptive females, but our understanding stops there. Is baiting a display by the males for the female? If so, what specifically is the female judging? How does baiting behavior by males correlate to the males' reproductive success?
Third, I am interested in the possible functions of cooperation among unrelated male hyenas. Does cooperating help them navigate their challenging environment as the lowest-ranking members of the clan? Does it increase reproductive success? When males form coalitions, are they universally ephemeral, or do they ever last long enough to be considered pair bonds?
The role-reversed aspects of spotted hyenas allow for a plethora of fascinating questions to be asked about sexual selection in this species. I'm hoping that this work will tackle a few of them.
Sexual selection in spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta)
evaluating sperm
darting a hyena