Mary Stoddard
Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Areas of Research: Evolution, Mechanisms and Functions of Avian Color, Eggshells, Bioengineering
Department|Program:
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

mstoddard@princeton.edu
Research Lab
(609) 258-6337
41 Guyot Hall
Scholar
Website

Why do we observe such striking diversity in animal colors, patterns and structures in the natural world? What evolutionary processes shape this diversity, and what mechanisms are responsible? We use a multidisciplinary approach to explore key questions in evolution, behavior and sensory ecology, with a focus on visual communication and signaling in birds, the most colorful terrestrial vertebrates.

Our major research topics include animal coloration and patterning, avian color vision, and the evolution of eggs. Within these themes, we investigate plumage evolution, iridescence, multimodal communication and sexual selection, brood parasitism and coevolution, spatial vision and pattern recognition, mimicry and camouflage, pollination behavior, and the evolution of signals used for species and individual recognition. Beyond color, we have a deep interest in avian physiology and the structure and function of morphological traits, which we investigate currently in avian eggs.

Our work incorporates techniques from computer science, mathematics, optics, physiology, animal behavior, mechanical engineering and comparative genomics. Our research combines experiments in the lab and field with studies based in museum collections, especially at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Our primary field site is at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, where we are investigating hummingbird color vision. Back in the lab, we are passionate about developing new optical, hardware and software tools for the study of animal color, and we are committed to making these resources available to the scientific community.

Finding solutions to some of the most pressing challenges we face—from climate change to biodiversity loss—will require a fundamental understanding of birds and the ecosystems they inhabit. We are eager to apply our work in ways that will help protect the planet.