Elisa Yang

Evolution of Elaborate Design in Weaverbird Nests

Nest structures are widespread across animals and yet are one of the most understudied components of avian life history. Some of the most remarkable examples of elaborate nest design are within the Weaverbirds (Ploceidae), an Old World family of birds containing over 100 species, making them an ideal model system for studying patterns of biodiversity. While it is known that each species constructs a uniquely designed nest, the evolutionary factors that influence design are unknown. Research questions to address include: 1.) What are ancestral versus derived nest characters? 2.) Are architectural innovations in nest design related to species diversification within the Ploceidae? 3.) What role does bill morphology play in nest design? My primary goal with this project will be to collect essential morphological data from preserved specimens at the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ). In addition, I will provide laboratory assistance in the extraction of DNA from tissue samples, work that will be performed in the Evolutionary Genetics Laboratory in the Valley Life Science Building (VLSB).

Message to Sponsor

SURF-SMART has hands down been the most helpful research program I've done in my life. The one on one mentorship was invaluable and it definitely not only changed my understanding and view of research, but also made me closely consider my life path and how my research interests integrate into that. I also learned a lot through the actual research experience. Despite it being virtual, I feel like I got so much more out of it than any other prior in-person experience, and the stipend helped support me throughout the summer so I could continue focusing on research instead of having to worry about financial security.
  • Major: Environmental Sciences
  • Sponsor: Johnson Fund
  • Mentor: Jackie Childers