• Research Opportunities with Bonnie Ploger

    Students interested in doing independent research under my supervision could work with me on one of my research projects (described below), or on a project based on a student's particular interest in some aspect of animal behavior, ecology or evolution. Students interested in teaching may develop projects related to teaching these topics.

    Antipredator Behavior in Frogs

    My current research focuses on antipredator behavior and chemical communication in African clawed frogs, Xenopus laevis. This species is widely used in physiological and developmental research and as a bioindicator of environmental contamination, yet little is known about its behavior or ecology. My students and I are characterizing how these frogs respond to simulated attacks by predators. We have found that Xenopus have two types of response. One is fast darting to flee the area of attack, and the other is sudden immobility. We are now exploring the contexts for these different responses, by asking questions such as: Do the responses differ with habitat conditions (e.g. presence or absence of shelter), social environment (alone or with groups) or the type of simulated predator (e.g. birds vs. fish)? Another response of Xenopus to simulated attacks is the probable release of chemicals that trigger antipredator responses in conspecifics. Many aquatic animals exhibit anti-predator responses to chemicals released from damaged tissues of conspecifics. In contrast, “disturbance chemicals” released by stressed but uninjured conspecifics have been reported in only a handful of aquatic species. Work in my lab has demonstrated that Xenopus respond with antipredator behavior to chemicals released by conspecifics disturbed by a simulated predator. A next step in this research is to identify the chemical that is released by disturbed frogs.

    Sibling Aggression in Birds

    This research centers on the ecological and evolutionary causes and consequences of sibling aggression. In many bird species, chicks hatch on different days. The elder siblings get much more food than their juniors, who often die of starvation and aggressive attacks by their seniors ("siblicide"). In my work, I address questions such as: Is sibling aggression adaptive? Who benefits (parents? senior siblings?) from sibling aggression, in the short and long-term? What specific cues trigger sibling attacks?

    ArtScience Pedagogy

    This work involves developing teaching materials for use in 1st grade through College and public art and science education. The focus is on combining art-making and experiences in nature with basic biological concepts in ways that enliven learning and deepen appreciation and understanding.