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Summary of Research Interests
WALTER D. KOENIG
I have broad interests in the evolution of behavior, particularly in projects integrating long-term empirical and experimental data on the behavior, life history, and ecology of individuals. My fields of interest include social behavior, mating systems, life history evolution, and sexual selection. Within these fields, I have worked specifically on questions concerning conflicts and cooperation within complex societies, the evolution of altruism, sex-ratio evolution, dispersal, territoriality, and parental care. I have done much of my work with the Acorn Woodpecker, a cooperatively breeding species in central California that exhibits both helping at the nest and a polygynandrous mating system.
I am also particularly interested in the evolution of reproductive traits in trees and the consequences of variable seed production for the animals that depend on mast for food. This project began with an attempt to understand the wide variation in acorn production by oaks at Hastings Reservation and has grown to include not only studies of masting in California oaks but investigations of seed production patterns in temperate and boreal trees on a global scale.
A third area in which I am currently active is that of investigating patterns of spatial synchrony in nature. Such patterns have implications for the degree to which species are organized as metapopulations. These studies have involved the development of statistical techniques that I have applied to census data on North American birds, dendrochronologies of boreal trees, butterfly populations, and seed production patterns of oaks and conifers worldwide.
Finally, I have done considerable work investigating the population ecology of various North American birds in relation to ecologically interesting phenomena such as West Nile virus, emergence of periodical cicadas, and global climate change. Most of this work involves using large, public databases including the North American Breeding Bird Surveys and the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts.
My work covers a variety of taxa and evolutionary questions. However, my primary focus is on long-term studies of marked individuals, whether they be birds, dragonflies, salamanders, or trees. My goal is to integrate knowledge of the ecological and evolutionary challenges faced by populations so as to understand the fitness consequences of individual differences in behavior. These kinds of studies lend themselves particularly well to involving students both as undergraduate assistants and as graduate participants. They also offer many opportunities for addressing questions at multiple levels of analysis. Whenever possible, I collaborate with colleagues with expertise in relevant fields so as to address important ecological questions at multiple levels.