Sam joined the Sewall lab in Fall 2016 as a PhD student studying integrative organismal biology. His primary research focus is on the effects of urbanization on wild song sparrows and he uses an integrative approach that includes physiological, ecological, and neurobiological measures to understand the consequences of habitat change on individual animals. Through his diverse research experiences, Sam has developed an overall interest in how external stimuli are translated into internal physiological adjustments that permit animals to cope with changing conditions. Sam received his B.A. in Biology (despite originally declaring a journalism major) from Arizona State University where he spent three years as an undergraduate laboratory and field assistant in Dr. Pierre Deviche’s neuroendocrinology lab.
He then spent three years working as 1) a field research technician studying threatened sage grouse with Dr. Gail Patricelli at the University of California, Davis, 2) studying the reproductive behavior of passerine birds with different life history strategies with Dr. Tom Martin at University of Montana, and 3) studying the reproductive behavior of the endangered lesser prairie chickens with Dr. David Haukos at Kansas State University. Most recently Sam spent a year working as a research technologist in a neurophysiology lab at the Mayo Clinic.
Sam’s doctoral work at VT will investigate how environmental conditions impact offspring fitness and phenotype, using established populations of urban and rural song sparrows as a study system. Urbanization is having global impacts on wildlife, as species worldwide face dramatic changes in environmental predictability, resource availability, and other abiotic and biotic factors. Individuals that are better able to adapt and cope with these changes may thrive in these new habitats, whereas those with less plasticity may not be able to survive. Sam’s research on one species of bird that lives in both rural and urban habitats will provide insight into the behavioral and physiological mechanisms that permit animals to persist in urban habitats. Concurrently, this work will provide insight into the limitations of animals’ adjustments to a changing world.
Sam’s diverse prior research experience and interdisciplinary approach is an excellent fit to the Interfaces of Global Change (IGC) program. He believes that being a fellow will not only assist him in effectively communicating with policy makers but also provide insight into how to best interact with the public. The language used within the scientific community is often so highly technical and specific that it fails to translate to the general public, resulting in key ideas and findings being overlooked or misinterpreted. Without the ability to effectively communicate and engage in a dialogue with the public and policy makers the impact of scientific research on influencing change is severely diminished. The training received by ICG fellows addresses this gap in many traditional science training programs to the benefit of trainees and the general public.