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Charles Brown Laboratory

Lab Location/ Complete Address: 

University of Tulsa

Oliphant Hall 330D

Department of Biological Sciences

800 S. Tucker Dr.

Tulsa, OK. 74104


Lab Lead Contact:

Dr. Charles R. Brown

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Lab Personnel:

Amy T. Moore, research associate

Erin A. Roche, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher

Jessica Cargill, M. S. student

Jessica Myers, Ph.D.




Research Description:

My research interests center broadly on the behavioral ecology of birds, with a specific emphasis on the evolution of social behavior. I have a secondary interest in disease ecology. People have been interested for centuries in why animals choose to live in groups. We now know that group living affords many benefits as well as costs, and how these interact to affect fitness of group-living animals is a central problem in ecology. Most of my work has been with a single population of cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), highly social birds that breed in large colonies throughout most of western North America. My long-term project (currently 31 years) at a field site in western Nebraska is among the longest running, continuous field studies on birds in North America, and the number of individuals marked (currently over 220,000 swallows) is the largest of any mark-recapture study of birds in the world. My graduate students have studied social behavior in other species of swallows, and I have also collaborated on studies of group living in sociable weavers (Philetairus socius) in South Africa.

The cliff swallow project has sought to identify the causes of group living and to understand why breeding colonies vary in size. This has required measuring the costs and benefits of coloniality, which remains one of my major research emphases. My coworkers and I have investigated many of the major questions in behavioral ecology with cliff swallows, and we have used a variety of approaches. For example, much of my earlier work was classical behavioral ecology, including observations of behavior and simple experimental field manipulations. This research program is well catalogued in my 566-page book, Coloniality in the Cliff Swallow: The Effect of Group Size on Social Behavior (University of Chicago Press, 1996). The cliff swallow work has included demographic analyses, quantitative-genetic estimates of the heritability of behavioral traits, field endocrinological research on hormone levels, studies of selection, analyses of alternative reproductive tactics including parentage studies, and epidemiological and molecular work on a bird-associated virus. Thus, while I work primarily on one species, my research is conceptually broad.

I typically take several undergraduate students to Nebraska each summer to work as research assistants in the field. We are there for about two months, from mid May to mid July, based at the University of Nebraska’s Cedar Point Biological Station near Ogallala. Students learn how to handle and band birds and conduct observations of bird behavior. For students considering a career in organismal biology or ecology, being a research assistant with me in Nebraska is an excellent way to experience field research in the intensive fashion that would be expected of a professional research biologist.


Funding Sources currently:

National Science Foundation

Our Contact Details

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Our Mission:

To develop bioscience research in Tulsa and to position Tulsa to be a leader in bioscience education, training, research and innovation by utilizing the assets of all area institutions of higher education.