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Dana L. Moseley

Postdoctoral Fellow
B.S., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst

Dana Moseley is a sensory ecologist who focuses on how birds communicate and how their communication signals are impacted by human noise. Her work addresses how birds persist in urbanized environments and if urban parks can support bird wildlife. Specifically, at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Moseley is working with Brandt Ryder to determine how urbanization affects the songs of a vocal mimic, the gray catbird.

For her postdoctoral fellowship at the SMBC, Moseley is focusing on the gray catbird (Dumatella carolinensis), which can be found breeding right in the middle of Washington, D.C., and is one of Neighborhood Nestwatch’s target species. Catbirds, like mockingbirds, are vocal mimics, meaning they imitate the sounds they hear throughout their lives. The more sounds they can copy appears to indicate some aspect of male quality. Catbirds that grow up in the city may have a reduced opportunity to copy a wide range of natural sounds. However, they are exposed to novel sounds like car alarms, sirens and cell phone rings. How are these novel sounds being used, and do female catbirds prefer the songs of city males or rural males? Moseley addresses these questions and puts the results in the context of nesting success along an urban-to-rural gradient. 

Moseley is working with Ryder to integrate information on breeding success, song behavior and migration. Together, Ryder and Moseley recaptured catbirds that were tagged in 2016 with highly accurate GPS tags that track the birds’ migration. These catbirds migrated to wintering grounds in southern Florida, Louisiana, and as far as Cuba! Additionally, in summer 2017, they tagged about 40 catbirds in various sites along an urban gradient. The birds that return in summer 2018 will be recaptured, and the GPS backpacks will reveal their migratory routes! Moseley's research goal is to understand the ecology and evolution of complex traits in the wild, including areas impacted by humans. As an integrative behavioral ecologist, she combines lab and field-based techniques to achieve this goal, focusing on sensory ecology and vocal communication in birds. With training in acoustics and birdsong, Moseley now applies these skills to investigate how certain species are able to persist in urbanized habitats. As the world becomes increasingly developed, an important emphasis can be placed on learning how habitats inside urban areas can still support wildlife.
Prior to working at SMBC, Moseley studied bioacoustics and behavior, specifically by focusing on vocal performance in birdsong. Vocal performance is the ability to sing a difficult song well and involves coordinating multiple motor systems. Animal displays often face physiological limits in their production. Animals that better meet those challenges may distinguish themselves from others in their display performance. While a great deal is known about male song production and learning, considerably less is known about how female birds develop preferences for male song in general. Conducting research on both parties in the communication system—senders and receivers—offers a deeper understanding of how song performance behavior has evolved. Moseley examined the function of song by investigating vocal performance in terms of development, territorial defense and female mate choice. Her dissertation research focused on the swamp sparrow, Melospiza georgiana, which has been a model species for studies of male song learning.
After her Ph.D., Moseley conducted two other postdoctoral research projects in collaboration with Elizabeth Derryberry and David Luther, studying the effects of anthropogenic noise on cultural evolution and song development in white-crowned sparrows. During her Mellon Fellowship at William and Mary, Moseley studied noise as a deterrent to birds in socio-economically important areas, testing effects of broadband noise on occupancy, community assemblages, communication and foraging in collaboration with John Swaddle. These experiences in urban ecology research helped inspire her project with Ryder on gray catbirds along an urban gradient.
Recent Papers: 

Swaddle, J.P.*, D.L. Moseley*, M.K. Hinders & E.P. Smith. 2016. A sonic net excludes birds from an airfield: implications for reducing bird strike and crop losses. Ecological Applications. 26: 339–345. doi:10.1890/15-0829.1  * indicates co-first authors.

Moseley, D.L., D.C. Lahti, & J. Podos. 2013. Responses to song playback vary with the vocal performance of both signal senders and receivers. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Vol. 280 (1768). DOI:10.1098/rspb.2013.1401

Moseley, D.L. & R.H. Wiley. 2013. Individual differences in the vocalizations the buff-throated woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus guttatus), a suboscine bird of neotropical forests. Behaviour. Vol. 150. 1107–1128.  DOI: 10.1163/1568539X-00003079

Podos, J., D. C. Lahti, & D. L. Moseley. 2009. Vocal Performance and Sensorimotor Learning in Songbirds. Advances in the Study of Behavior. Vol. 40: 159-195.

Projects