Brown receives NSF research grant

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Grant allows TU professor to continue decades-long research of cliff swallows

Charles R. BrownDr. Charles R. Brown, a professor of biological sciences at The University of Tulsa, recently was awarded a three-year, $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support his long-term study of social behavior in cliff swallows.

Brown’s research addresses why animals are social. His mark-recapture project on cliff swallows in western Nebraska is the largest bird-banding dataset in the world, involving more than 210,000 banded birds and more than 375,000 captures of birds in the field.

The new grant will support the statistical analysis of the data and some additional fieldwork. NSF has funded Brown’s research for more than 20 years.

The data will examine how size of a nesting colony affects annual survival of cliff swallows and whether individuals use the same size colony each year. The research also will determine why nesting success in most seasonally breeding birds declines with time during the summer.

Experimental treatment of cliff swallow colonies with insecticide creates conditions that stimulate some birds to nest much later in the summer than typically seen and will provide the opportunity to compare first-year survival of birds raised early and late in the season.

Many kinds of animals, including humans, live in groups of different sizes and Brown’s research addresses fundamental questions about what factors create and maintain diversity in group sizes; what is discovered for swallows may apply to other species that live in social groups.

The work will be relevant for conservation, too, because understanding colony choice and annual variation in survival probabilities of species such as cliff swallows could help in establishing management guidelines for similar migratory species that are declining.


Dr. Charles Brown