Tropical Avian Ecology and Conservation in Fragmented Landscapes
My dissertation research at University of Florida explored the patterns and processes shaping avian community disassembly in high elevation Andean cloud forests undergoing rapid fragmentation. Using a mix of community-wide surveys, mist netting, radio telemetry, bio-logging technology, and vegetation surveys I (1) described how landscape heterogeneity and functional traits explained patterns in avian community structure along a gradient of forest fragmentation and agricultural land-use change, and (2) explored how potential mechanistic links, including space use, micro-habitat selection, and light micro-environments, contributed towards community assembly in fragmented landscapes. The work occurred in Amazonas, Peru amidst one of the most dramatic disruptions in the Andes Mountains, creating extreme topographical and climatic complexity. I and fellow graduate student Felicity Newell started the project Aves del Bosque Montano Peruano to help share our science with our local community partners via environmental outreach programs.
Ausprey, I.J., F.L. Newell, & S.K. Robinson. 2020. Adaptations to light predict the foraging niche and disassembly of avian communities in tropical countrysides. Ecology. e03213.
**Chumpitaz, K., F.L. Newell, & I.J. Ausprey. 2018. Utilizacion de patrones de muda para determinar la edad de la Reinita de Corona Rojiza (Myiothlypis coronata). Ornithologia Neotropical 29: S75–S81.
Avian Sensory Ecology and Museum Collections
I became deeply interested in how birds use light to navigate disturbed habitats as part of my doctoral fieldwork in Peru. Our field results were so compelling that I started searching around for larger datasets to see if our Peru results held up at a global level. Interestingly, the only project treating avian visual systems across the Avian Tree of Life was an unpublished dissertation from the University of Chicago completed in 1982 by Stanley Ritland. Stan engaged in the absolutely heroic task of visiting collections around the world to measure eyes of nearly 3000 species of terrestrial birds (a third of the global terrestrial avifauna). Two of my undergraduate students, Kristi Perez and Savannah Montgomery, painstakingly digitized those data, and I found strong correlations between avian eye size and key aspects of the ecological niche, such as foraging behavior, diet, habitat, and latitude. I also found that much of the variation in eye size was explained by phylogeny, demonstrating the central role light has played in avian evolution. I’m continuing to use this invaluable data set with collaborators to understand how the avian visual system shapes a species’ ecology and evolution.
Ausprey, I. J. 2021. Adaptations to light contribute to the ecological niches and evolution of the terrestrial avifauna. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 288: 20210853. http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.0853