News Archive

Grants in Aid of Research Recipient Profile: Sydney Hope

December 19, 2019

Sydney HopeGrant: $700 in fall 2014

Education level at the time of the grant: PhD student

Research Discipline: Behavioral Ecology

Project: Sydney Hope studied how the incubation temperature of wood duck eggs affected the behavior of the ducklings once they hatched. The temperature at which eggs are incubated is one of the most important aspects of the developmental environment for avian offspring. Parental behavior regulates incubation; thus, any factor that influences the parent will affect the developmental environment of the offspring. Anthropogenic changes such as urbanization (i.e., human disturbance) and climate change (i.e., increased levels of extreme weather events and food shortages) can result in parents spending less time incubating, which leads to lower egg temperatures. A small decrease (<1°C) in average incubation temperature leads to offspring with suboptimal morphology and physiology. Very little is known, however, about how incubation temperature influences important offspring behaviors. 

Duckling, Credit to Gloria SchoenholtzHope’s results showed that ducklings incubated at the lowest temperature displayed more proactive (e.g., bolder) behaviors than those incubated at the two higher temperatures studied. This suggests that ducklings incubated at low temperatures may be able to compensate behaviorally for their suboptimal morphology and physiology, because proactive behaviors may benefit food acquisition or competitive ability. Further, the results identify incubation temperature as a mechanism that contributes to the development of behavior and explains in part how multiple behavioral types may be maintained within populations.

How the project has affected Hope as a scientist: “This was the first major project that I was completely in charge of,” Hope said. “I gained technical skills in animal husbandry, hormone assays, and animal behavior analysis. More important, however, I gained skills in experimental design through ample methodological trial and error and in team management through mentoring five undergraduates.”

Where is she now? Hope, a Sigma Xi member, is a PhD candidate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She has made significant progress toward completing her dissertation, including publishing the Sigma Xi grant-supported study.1 After completing her PhD, she plans to continue to conduct research, focusing on animal behavior in a faculty position at a research-focused university. 

1. Hope, S.F., R.A. Kennamer, I.T. Moore, and W.A. Hopkins. 2018. Incubation temperature influences the behavioral traits of a young precocial bird. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology 329:191–202. doi: 10.1002/jez.2176.

Photo Caption: Sydney Hope turned her Sigma Xi grant into published research about wood ducks. (Top photo by Jennifer Cacciola. Bottom photo by Gloria Schoenholtz)