Project Title: Fluctuating Asymmetry as a Conservation Management Tool for Indicator Species of the Open Longleaf Pin Forest Ecosystem
Student: Emily Webb
Mentor: Dr. Shala Hankison

Understanding whether a species is in decline, and how that decline may impact a species, is a key to promoting the conservation process. One approach to investigating population decline in birds is to understand potential challenges to developmental stability, measured as deviations from perfect left-right symmetry, called fluctuating asymmetry. The Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) is a resident of fire-dependent, open Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) forests in southeastern parts of the United States. The endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) shares the same habitat preference; therefore, Brown-headed Nuthatches could be used as an indicator of habitat quality for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Although Brown-headed Nuthatches are not listed as a species of concern in the state of Florida, their range has noticeably contracted over time; therefore, this research is valuable to the conservation of both species. This study will measure fluctuating asymmetry as a method that could potentially be used to monitor the developmental instability of Brown-headed Nuthatches and the significance of their decline, which could then be used to predict population health of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Several morphological characters of Brown-headed Nuthatches will be measured using museum specimens in order to compile a historical data set with which to compare future studies in fluctuating asymmetry. White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis), the common counterpart to Brown-headed Nuthatches, will be similarly measured to serve as a control. Research suggests that Brown-headed Nuthatches, as a species in decline, should exhibit an overall increase in the incidence of fluctuating asymmetry over time, so that is the expected trend.

Contact Info


Merrick Hall
65 S. Sandusky St.
Delaware, OH 43015
P 740-368-3075

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Merrick Hall