James R. Silliman Memorial Research Grant archive


Caleb Gordon

The James R. Silliman Award supported Caleb's research on the community ecology of wintering grassland sparrows while Caleb was a doctoral candidate in the department of Ecology of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona.  Co-advised by professors Robert Robichaux and Michael Rosenzweig, Caleb's research investigated whether movement patterns could serve as a niche partitioning axis within a community of ecologically similar species that coexist within the mid-elevation grasslands of southeastern Arizona.  Influenced by a core area of classical community ecology theory, Caleb's research was highly empirical, and featured a substantial community outreach component, engaging hundreds of volunteers from the local community to participate in "sparrow drives," during which the secretive birds would be flushed into mist-nets so that they could be examined, measured, and banded, for the primary purpose of revealing the sparrows' space use patterns and tendencies toward site fidelity.

Currently, Caleb is a Texas branch manager for WEST, Inc.

His staff profile page on WEST, Inc website is http://www.west-inc.com/bios/calebGordon.html


Diana L. May


Brent Burt

I was honored to receive a James R. Silliman Memorial Research Grant while working on my doctoral research.  These and other funds were crucial in allowing me to travel to Kenya and Thailand to document the social systems of several species of bee-eaters for my phylogenetic analyses of cooperative breeding in this family of birds.  I have continued my ecological and evolutionary research on cooperative breeding and habitat use in blue-tailed bee-eaters, brown-headed nuthatches and red-cockaded woodpeckers as a faculty member at Stephen F. Austin State University.  My most recent research focuses on signaling, mate choice, habitat use and nesting success in painted buntings. http://www2.sfasu.edu/biology/Biology/Faculty/dbburt.html



Pamela A. Banta Lavenex

Daniel Mariani



Stephani L. Boykin

Susan Koening

Judith Becerra


Juan Francisco Ornelas (1992)

Searching and switching foraging behaviors in hummingbirds: the dilemma between specialization and generalization in the genus Amazilia

Foraging performance of different hummingbird species was quantified by experimentally simulating changes in the environment, and tested the hypothesis that species of migratory hummingbirds are more likely to adjust their behavior to changes in the environment than resident. Color discrimination tasks were designed to explore how recently captured hummingbirds perform when the expected rewarding floral color is not profitable. Hummingbirds were presented with an array consisting of randomly-distributed artificial flowers of two contrasting colors, where half were empty and either pink, orange or red, and the other half were filled with a sugar solution and were either green, yellow or orange. On average, migrants visited more the rewarding flowers than residents, and both migratory and resident hummingbirds performed better than chance when foraging on red/orange arrays.

My current research is focused on the evolutionary processes that generate and maintain hummingbird diversity. In my lab group we use molecular genetic markers and phenotypic data to explore geographic variation across various spatial scales to reveal patterns of gene flow between populations, reconstruct phylogenetic relationships among hummingbird lineages, and infer the historical and selective factors driving population divergence and the formation of new species. We are particularly interested in the relative roles of selection (natural and sexual selection) and neutral factors (genetic drift) in the process of diversification. I am particularly interested in the evolution of song, metallic coloration and migration, and how these traits are linked to hummingbird speciation and diversification, and how the evolution of hummingbirds with cloud forest distribution in Mesoamerica is linked to the evolution of co-distributed hummingbird-pollinated plants.




Sarah C. Vetault

Robert R. Sheehy


Holly H. Hobart (1988 and 1984)


Thomas Valone (1988 and 1984)

The Silliman Grant aided my dissertation research on animal information use.  Specifically it helped fund my work on black-chinned hummingbirds at the Audubon Society Research Ranch, near Elgin, Arizona.  I was investigating whether and how individuals used experience at a food patch in the past to estimate the quality of a current food patch. I found that individuals were able to combine prior experience with current sample information in a manner similar to Bayesian updating to determine how long to exploit the current food patch.  Subsequent work has revealed that many animals are capable of combining past and present information to estimate the quality of many kinds of environmental parameters. 

 Information about my current research can be found at http://www.slu.edu/department-of-biology-home/dr-thomas-valone

Mike Kaspari (1985 and 1988)

I arrived at UofA hellbent on studying overwintering sparrows at the Santa Rita Experimental Range. The idea was that these multi-species flocks were the perfect way to blend my interest in behavioral ecology and community ecology, as the birds made choices to join or go solo, and in doing so changed the diversity and arrangement of the flock as they rolled across the desert.  Add to that, the Santa Ritas were crawling with predators, from shrikes, to accipiters, to falcons. It was a very dicey place for a sparrow to overwinter. The Silliman fund had me driving down there in four times weekly in my old baby blue Subaru, walking transects, spreading millet, and watching my breath fog up my binoculars. Those Arizona sunrises were just as memorable as the sunsets from BioWest's porch. And just as suddenly, as my picture attests, I discovered the tropics and ants, where I could get 10x more data in a day than I could get on birds in a month. Funny how things work out that way. 



Nora A. Mays (1986 and 1985)



Marie McGee

Scott Osborn:

Scott Osborn’s dissertation work focused on thermoregulatory behavior and physiology of desert rodents, including both torpor in pocket mice and adaptive hyperthermia in ground squirrels.  The Silliman grant funded the purchase of telemetry equipment used to track and monitor the body temperatures of squirrels in the field.  Scott says without the grant a major portion of his dissertation work could not have been completed.  Scott is currently a Senior Environmental Scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Nongame Wildlife Program, where he coordinates conservation activities for listed and other special status rodents, bats, insectivores, and lagomorphs in California.  Scott is a Certified Wildlife Biologist, a Past-President of the Western Section of The Wildlife Society, and in 2012 received the Western Section’s Raymond F. Dasmann Award as Professional of the Year.



David B. McDonald

Diana W. Lett

John Bates

P Richard Hibbard

John "Barney" Dunning:

I am a professor of wildlife ecology at Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. I have been here since 1994. After graduating from the UoA in 1986, I worked briefly for a consultant firm in Tucson (doing urban bird ecology) and then was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Georgia. Here at Purdue I teach (a lot) courses in environmental science, conservation biology and ornithology.  My work is mainly a mix of conservation biology and landscape ecology where I look at the impacts on species and communities that result from changes in habitat quality and quantity across landscapes. These changes may result from anthropogenic activity such as habitat restoration or changes in policy such as forest harvest rotations. For the most part, I work on terrestrial birds such as sparrows (one visitor that I met birding in southern Arizona heard that and said “well, I guess someone has to study sparrows). But my students have studied salamanders, frogs and small mammals among other things.  I also have taught a summer study abroad course for 18 years that is taught with a Swedish university. Each year we alternate going to some location(s) in Europe and North America and have our students work in international teams, investigating the use of natural resources broadly defined.  Last summer we went to Sweden, Germany and Poland while this coming year we are going to the Maritime Provinces of Canada.  Dunning Lab: https://ag.purdue.edu/fnr/Pages/Profile.aspx?strAlias=jdunning&intDirDep...



Laurie McKean

James W. Dawson