Research Program

Research Overview

I am an organismal biologist who is generally interested in physiological ecology and animal behavior. I tend to focus on birds, and am currently working on several projects with undergraduates at Lafayette College.
Michael Butler Lafayette College


Ecological and physiological roles of antioxidants and immune challenges
     How do animals contend with challenges posed by the environment? What physiological and behavioral tools can they employ to meet those challenges? To address these questions, I work with free-living and captive birds from a variety of species. I am particularly interested in how animals respond to pathogens or parasites, and examine physiological responses to these and other environmental pressures. My students and I collect data on circulating levels of nutrients, oxidative damage, antioxidants, and immune system metrics. Because many pigments have both antioxidant and immunomodulating roles, we also examine the physiological roles of biliverdin, the blue-green pigment that is responsible for the coloration of some eggshells. Lastly, we  place these physiological results in a real-world context by tracking animal behavior, including foraging patterns, and both short- and long-term survival.
Michael Butler Lafayette College
Window strike mortality
While large windows make college buildings aesthetically pleasing and provide plentiful light for studying students, they can also result in the death of many songbirds that accidentally fly into them. Several undergraduates, Professor Brandes (Civil and Environmental Engineering), and I are beginning to investigate this phenomenon on Lafayette’s campus. We have begun to create a long-term dataset on mortality rates on campus, and we hope to eventually not only understand seasonal and weather-related patterns on mortality rates due to window strikes, but to also use the data to suggest changes that would reduce the incidence of avian mortality on campus due to window strikes. More recently, we have joined a collaborative network coordinated by Steve Hager to investigate this phenomenon more broadly.