The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action

Animal Behavior Conference 2014

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While the rest of the lab was attending the JMIH meeting (read about it here!), I was headed toward the 2014 annual meeting for the Animal Behavior Society in Princeton, New Jersey. Armed with a Penn State Dodge Avenger, a fellow Penn State Ecology student and I braved New Jersey drivers and the unlabeled campus buildings ready to present our research! While campus was quite difficult to navigate at night to newcomers, during the day it was beautiful!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The fun part about traveling to a new place for a conference is being able to explore! This installation was particularly memorable…

heads2 heads1According to the internet, these heads were designed by Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei. Apparently, these were based on sculptures located in Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat outside Beijing, that were originally designed by an Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione in the mid-18th century. The original sculptures were stolen, and only 5 have been returned to China. In addition to having a neat source of inspiration, these heads are 10 feet tall and super weird and awesome. I approve!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The plenary talks were located here. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Mornings began at 8am with plenary talks by some fantastic researchers in animal behavior. Dr. Iain Couzin started off Day 1 describing his work on collective behavior of swarms and schools, like those of locusts and fish. His lab applies theoretical principles from physics to help understand the ecology of these groups. So cool! In both his talk and many others throughout the week, I was amazed at the tracking software available to scientists. With this software, you can track each individual in a school of fish and other variables like position or velocity–all automatically! I was able to talk to Ian briefly during the dance (yes, scientists sometimes dance!), and he shared that his early research interests did not include collective behavior. Initially he wanted to study lizards, though he didn’t have many options in Scotland. I don’t blame him; lizards are pretty darn cool!

The plenary speakers gave their talks in this amazing room!

The plenary speakers gave their talks in this amazing room!

The other sessions took place on the other side of campus in the more recently constructed science buildings. Because we were presenting on a college campus (vs. at a conference center), most of the talks took place in big lecture halls. I’ve never given a talk to such a big room before! In my presentation, I discussed the terms we use to describe stress and what characteristics of stress are important when predicting the outcomes of that stress (I’ll share more details on the blog later!). I gave my talk on Sunday, the first “official” day of the conference, which left the rest of the week to relax and learn about animal behavior! Two other graduate students from Penn State presented their work, and a graduate student and two undergrads from Penn State gave poster presentations. All did a fantastic job!

Here Gabriel Villar, a grad student in the Penn State Entomology Department, just finished presenting his work on honey bees.

Here Gabriel Villar, a grad student in the Penn State Entomology Department, just finished presenting his work on honey bees.

Although my research doesn’t always include animal behavior, it was really neat to hear about the many techniques and study populations used to study animal behavior. Many research groups have long-standing study systems, having observed hyenas, meerkats, zebras, or primate groups for 10 to sometimes 40 years! They have some really neat research about personality, dominance hierarchies, and other group dynamics. And some really cool photos!


It was fun to meet so many interesting people and learn about their research during the conference. I look forward to the next one!


Author: Gail McCormick

Science writer at Penn State University; papercrafter, ecologist, theatre-lover.

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