…♫ now face West: The ecology and evolution of directional behavior in Woodpeckers

Primary collaborators; Lukas Landler (Research Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna), Michelle A. Jusino (US Forest Service), Jeffery R. Walters (Virginia Tech)


A Red-Cockaded Woodpecker returns to roost on a long-leaf pine in coastal North Carolina. Photo credit: Michelle A Jusino.

What started as a lively conversation among grad students over beer has turned into a productive and entirely novel research program! We study how and why so many cavity excavators orient their cavities to the cardinal directions. Projects include;

1) Climate effects on global trends in woodpecker cavity orientation. In a global meta-analysis of all available population level cavity orientation data of woodpckers and other Picidae, we demonstrated that cavity orientation is typically non-random within populations, and that the population-level directional biases change with latitude. In short, northern birds prefer a southern exposure, which suggests that cavity orientation is an adaptive trait that is modulated by local climate !! Please see Landler et al 2014 for more…

2) Natural selection’s influence on cavity orientation of an endangered woodpecker species. Using long-term breeding success data and cavity orientation data from several large populations of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers throughout the Southeastern US, we are showing that adaptive cavity orientation is manifested in a succession of behaviors and that cavity direction is crucial breeding success of this endangered species!