Current Research

house wrenI am broadly interested in female traits that are not expected to occur under the classic narrative of sexual selection.  I am currently researching the form and function of two traits- female-female aggression and female song- in a Michigan population of house wrens. 

What's the Problem?

Since the time of Darwin, biologists have had stereotypical expectations about male and female behavior.  Males are expected to be aggressive and competitive, fighting to gain females through outright battles or dueling covertly through contests of color and song.  Females have historically been viewed as shrewd decision-makers with no need for these "male-like" traits.  So what's the problem?  Growing evidence shows these competitive traits are a lot more common in female animals than first expected (1-4).  Sexual selection alone does not explain why these female traits evolve in many instances.

A major stumbling block to understanding why and how these "male-like" female traits arise is the relative lack of research on female animals.  My work seeks to fill this gap.  My work contains several over-arching themes:
    (1) These female competitive traits may be more likely to be under selection in             social contexts outside of strict mating competition.  We should be                         prepared to step outside the traditional boundaries of sexual selection                     when thinking about these traits in females.
    (2) While the trade-offs shaping these traits in males can be a useful                             guide, these traits may have different costs and benefits for females.

Learn More

To learn more about my work, click on the links below:

Female Song:
    1. What does female house wren song look like?
    2. Why do female house wrens sing?
    3. Do female house wrens use vocalizations as aggressive signals?

Female-female Aggression:
    1. Does aggression help female house wrens defend breeding resources?
    2. Does female aggression help or hurt reproductive performance?
    3. Do more aggressive females suffer a health or survival cost?

female house wren


  • 1. Clutton-Brock, T. 2007. Sexual selection in males and females. Science 318:1882-1885.
  • 2. Rosvall,  KA. 2011. Intrasexual competition in females: evidence for sexual selection? Behav Ecol 22:1131-1140.
  • 3. Clutton-Brock, T, Huchard, E. 2013. Social competition and selection in males and females. Phil Trans R Soc B 368:20130074.
  • 4. Odom, KJ, Hall, ML, Riebel, K, Omland, KE, Langmore, NE. 2014. Female song is widespread and ancestral in songbirds. Nature Communicatios 5:3379