My research focuses on complex social behavior in highly cognitive animals, specifically, the social interactions that occur when animals have the cognitive complexity for such behaviors as kin, neighbor and even individual recognition, or cooperative behavior.  My current research interests are moving in three somewhat different directions: 1) primate development, behavior, and reproduction, and 2) behavioral ecology and foraging behavior of corvids (crows, jays, and magpies), and 3) the social behavior of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest.

Primate development, behavior, and reproduction

My research program, frequently in collaboration with Dr. Gene P. (Jim) Sackett, includes extensive involvement in projects ranging from basic descriptive work on the growth and psychological (cognitive, social, memory, etc.) development of infant pigtail macaques, longtail macaques, and savannah baboons to developing new statistical methods for analysis of developmental data. In addition, I have become involved in colony management through my research on the influence of social factors on reproductive outcome, and I currently co-direct the Washington National Primate Research Center's Population Demographics and Genetics Program, where I am a Research Scientist. I am also developing several new projects which will involve the application of statistical techniques to estimate the heritability of a number of physiological and behavioral traits (e.g. reproductive outcome and response to psychosocial stress) using the extensive database of pedigreed macaques at the WaNPRC.  In addition, I am currently developing an agent-based computer model of population demographics and working to develop more sophisticated methods of monitoring and managing the WaNPRC Breeding Colony genetics.

Behavioral ecology and foraging behavior of corvids

In collaboration with my wife, Dr. Renee Robinette Ha, I am invovled in research examining the foraging ecology of Northwestern crows, and the use of tidal flats as a desirable, renewable, but only intermittently available, food resource. We have been involved in extensive field work, including banding and behavioral observations. In addition, we have developed the microsatellite DNA markers that will ultimately allow us to determine kinship amongst our subjects. My ultimate goal with this study is to develop methods for testing second and third generation optimal foraging models in the field. My particular interests are in models of risk-sensitive foraging (based on my doctoral work), and in developing game-theoretical explanations of social (producer-scrounger) foraging in the field. My approach is two-fold: to develop practical situations in the field in which behaviors appropriate for risk- or game-theory analysis can be observed and quantified, and to develop laboratory models using operant learning techniques and theory to provide supporting controlled analyses of behaviors.  In addition, I am currently developing an agent-based computer model of social foraging.

    My wife, Dr. Renee Ha, and I have been awarded a large grant to fund a major research effort on the endangered island species of birds in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (near Guam).  This program (The Rota Avian Behavioral Ecology Project, RABEP) includes post-docs, graduate students, and an undergraduate research program.  Our work is currently on the behavioral ecology and conservation of two endangered species: the Mariana Crow and the Rota Bridled White-eye.


The Social Behavior of Killer Whales in the Pacific Northwest

I have recently been funded by NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, in collaboration with my graduate student, Jennifer Marsh, to study the social ecology of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). Boat-based behavior surveys were conducted during the summers of 2003, 2004, and 2005.  Social behaviors examined include “percussive” behaviors (tail slap, pectoral fin slap, breach), as well as spy hops and synchronous surfacing, and energetic states, like travel, rest, and dive.  This study is now in publication mode and has been able to examine how variables such as time of day, location, number of vessels, and salmon abundance influence the social behavior of SRKW.