A statement from President Peter Goodwin on UMCES’ commitment to diversity

Visiting Scholar Seminar Series: Kevin Omland, UMBC

September 17, 2020 4:00pm to 5:00pm iCal Google Calendar

Please join us for the next seminar in the Appalachian Laboratory's virtual series.  Dr. Kevin Omland, UMBC, will present, "Studies of Female Bird Song Demonstrate The Importance of Diversity in Science," at 4pm on Thursday, September 17.  To learn more about Dr. Omland's research, please visit his research site

Talk Description: 

Having people from diverse backgrounds studying everything from behavior to climate change can lead to a more informed understanding of a range of problems in ornithology, ecology and science as a whole. Geographical and gender biases in the history of ornithology have caused missed opportunities and in some cases backwards understanding of key evolutionary and behavioral processes.

Female birds have historically been neglected or ignored in studies of elaborate coloration and song. The main framework for thinking about the evolution of elaborate traits has been sexual selection, whereby competition amongst males for mates has led to elaborate coloration and long complex songs. Females have either been ignored or assumed not to change.

Our work on plumage coloration in orioles highlights that most tropical songbirds likely have elaborate coloration in both sexes. The ancestral oriole was likely a tropical resident with year-round territoriality and female plumage not diagnosably different from males. Our work on song in orioles, other blackbirds and across all songbirds indicates that female song is much more common than previously thought.  Furthermore, the common ancestor of all songbirds likely had female song, suggesting that that social selection acting on both sexes throughout the year may have caused the original evolution of bird song.

Recently, we have tallied the number of authors of papers on female song versus bird song in general – men are 24% less likely than women to have published first authored papers on female song! Moving forward, having ornithologists from diverse backgrounds specifically accounting for female display traits will lead to a more clear understanding of the evolution of coloration and song. It will also facilitate a broader understanding of the full scope of topics in avian ecology, evolution and behavior. This case study shows why it is important to address racial, gender and other biases to improve the outcomes of research, teaching and outreach across the environmental sciences.

Zoom access instructions have been emailed to the UMCES community.  If you have not received these instructions, please contact Rhonda Schwinabart at rschwinabart@umces.edu