Why do some species closely resemble each other? Disentangling the potential contributions of mimicry, chance, parallel selection, and retained ancestral characters to resemblance is needed to understand the ecological drivers of and evolutionary patterns behind phenotypic convergence. Evaluating these alternatives requires a multifaceted investigation of phylogenetic history, phenotypic evolution, and the ecological function of traits. Interspecific social dominance mimicry (ISDM) is a two-party mimicry system where benefits to the smaller mimic include reduced interference competition from a larger model/signal receiver and a lower cost of maintaining large body size. ISDM has been shown to be theoretically plausible, but has not yet been tested empirically. My dissertation research explores the patterns, processes, and role of ISDM and other forms mimicry in the phenotypic evolution of the Tyrannini flycatchers. These birds are the premier hypothesized example of ISDM and are an ideal system for studying interactions between visual and acoustic mimetic phenotypes in syntopic species. Specifically, I will 1) construct a robust species-level phylogenetic hypothesis of the Tyrannini, 2) use this phylogeny to determine if patterns of visual and acoustic phenotypic evolution in Tyrannini are consistent with mimicry, and 3) test ecological predictions of ISDM and alternative hypotheses in Tyrannini using behavioral field experiments.
This dissertation work is supported by the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, the Organization for Tropical Studies, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the UW Department of Biology Paine Award for Experimental and Field Ecology, the American Museum of Natural History Chapman Memorial Fund, and the UW Boeing International Fellowship.
My current and past side projects in the Klicka Lab include phylogenetics and systematics of the family Vireonidae and population genetics of American and Northwestern Crows. Find out more at my personal site.