Photography and Updates

Field photography – John’s Flickr page

White-shouldered fairywren blog – Link (I am a contributor)

Spring 2019

A lot of ground to cover since my last update which was immediately after my 2018 field season. TL;DR – PhD candidate, two papers, Australian fellowship. 

First, I’m officially a PhD Candidate after defending my prospectus this semester. Lots of quality feedback regarding my upcoming, final field season in Papua New Guinea. This year (starting in mid-May!), I will return to Papua New Guinea alongside my collaborator at Washington State to finish collecting the data for two of my three dissertation chapters. Briefly, I will (1) be conducting a plumage-based manipulation experiment and testing aggression via mirror image stimulation assays and (2) conduct more a follow-up implantation experiment to increase sample size and explore birdsong more in depth. I’ve presented the results of this second objective at the Society for Comparative and Integrative Biology Annual Meeting in January (Tampa, FL), so if this seems a bit familiar, that would be why.

I’ve had my 9th and 10th papers published in 2019. In the first, in New Orleans we describe how lead (Pb) exposure in an urban environment may influence aggressive behaviors in Northern Mockingbirds (McClelland et al. 2019). Second, in Papua New Guinea, we describe the social biology and life-history of white-shouldered fairywrens in a special issue of Emu (Enbody et al. 2019).

Finally, I have received an Endeavour Research Leadership Award, an Australian Fellowship funded though the Australian Department of Education and Training. Think of it kind of like an Australian version of the Fulbright. With this, I’ll spend the Fall 2019 semester in Australia to conduct new research questions on red-backed fairywrens, sister species to my white-shouldered fairywrens in Papua New Guinea. The possibilities are endless for this, but I will be in Australia from August until the spring semester and I’m fairly excited about it.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the white-shouldered fairywren blog as I post (more-or-less) live updates from the field, internet providing. Until then!


August 2018

Well another field season has come and gone. In the time since my last update (1 May 2018), we (myself and my two awesome field assistants, Ian and Doka) started and completed two distinct projects, piloted another, caught over 200 birds. I’ll mostly summarize for now, as I wrote most of these out in greater detail in the Field Blog (found either here, or the official White-shouldered fairywren blog!) – if you fancy a long read which has all the details of day-to-day life in Papua New Guinea, that is.

Deploying our female fairywren army, we conducted a reciprocal playback experiment, where we broadcasted female songs of both the ornamented and unornamented populations coupled with a female mount of the same populations. The goal here is to determine the relative importance of visual versus acoustic signals in aggressive interactions among females as well as how males perceive these solo females. We ended up conducting 217 behavioural assays split between Milne Bay and Western Provinces. It, of course, will take some time to analyze. Nonetheless, I am excited about what the results may yield. Stay tuned.


Do you see that tiny patch of bronze-tipped feathers in the left-shoulder patch? This shouldn’t be there. In fact, >95% of males and females have spotless, white shoulders. So why does this male have these naturally occurring melanin-tipped feathers? Well in other fairywrens (including our closest relative, red-backed fairywrens), Testosterone is thought to play a key role in regulating ornament expression in species that undergo annual molts. But what about a species where ornamentation is fixed? To explore this question, I implanted males and females with an antiandrogen to block androgen receptors in feather tracts. The results are mixed, but quite interesting. Below, a female was implanted and allowed her feathers to fully grown in after implantation. The end result is an eyebrow that is much thicker and numerous melanin-tipped feathers. What is surprising, however, is that only the tips are coated in melanin, but the remainder of the ornament is still white. While this is still interesting, I have yet to analyze which genes are explicitly turned on and off in response to no androgens, but hopefully we’ll have an answer for that soon.

Doka bird figure

These two experiments took up the bulk of my time this past summer in Papua New Guinea. I’m currently writing this from Australia after a long, interesting, depressing, stressful, and rewarding field season. All of those adjectives make field work worth it. After all, science, and indeed life in general, is full of let downs and moments that make you question everything – what is important is how you are able to pick yourself back up and continue on. If this seems vague, well the blog may explain in greater detail what I’m referring too.

The third year of my dissertation is rapidly approaching – I’m quite excited about what there is in-store for white-shouldered research to come forward. This year should see (hopefully) the submission of a general white-shouldered fairywren paper as well as my behavioural experiment – but all those things are, of course, subject to change. I’ll keep you posted. Until then!

Emperor fairywren held by me, Ian, and Doka
Speaking of Doka, I managed to send our Papuan friend to Australia to spend some time exploring red-backed fairywrens!

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May 2018

Hi there. Just enough time for a brief update.

I was awarded a grant from the American Ornithological Society for my work on the proximate mechanisms driving female ornamentation in the white-shouldered fairywren! I’m honored to have received my second award from this bird group (the first was for my final stretch of my MSc) and I look forward to putting the grant money to good use. I only wish their conferences didn’t take place during the field season so I could attend… Perhaps soon. The EEB department was also kind enough to fund the research I’m currently doing in PNG this season and for that I’m grateful.

I’ve taken over the official white-shouldered fairywren blog (! Well taken over is probably a bit of a stretch… I’m more like one of three contributors. But in any case, you should head on over there and read about it. I updated it recently. I’m going to copy and paste some of it here, though, in case you want to save yourself a click. But you should still check it out because there’s quite a bit of good stuff from Enbody’s time in the field before me.

“So, what am I doing here in PNG? Well, I’m in Milne Bay Province, working in two villages (Porotona and Garuahi) to start answering these questions. In Porotona, I am first exploring how peripheral testosterone (i.e., outside the central nervous system) influences plumage expression in both males and females. Broadly, the goal here is to understand if testosterone outside the brain is what controls whether or not females have ornaments. Should know the results of this experiment (hopefully) in just a few short days.

2. Porotona field site

In the meantime, Serena and I gave a presentation to the local school here in Porotona about the importance of grasslands and, of course, the lovely fairywrens that live there.

3. Porotona School presentation.jpg

In the coming weeks, I’ll begin my second experiment in the village of Garuahi. I’ll be using similar card-stock mounts that Erik used in his research, but asking slightly different questions. I’ll be presenting only a female mount of both morphological phenotypes paired with their local song phenotype to determine how males and females respond. What’s unique about this perspective is that this project gives us the opportunity to determine if and how intensively males attempt to court another female as well as how territorial females will be in response to a female intruder. Maybe, if cell service is available there, I’ll be able to update you with what happens in real time. But no promises. Stay tuned.”


As an aside, it’s important to note that PNG is so much more than just birds. Don’t get me wrong, the birds are fantastic. But there is so much life here that it’d be unfair to showcase it.

There’s plenty more to showcase, but in due time. Only have so much internet connectivity… and battery life. Until then!

April 2018 – 

Well the time has come to enter the field again. I’d love to update this in real time, but my internet will not be good enough for that. However, I will attempt to remember to tweet updates throughout the field season. I’ll be heading to Milne Bay as well as Western Provinces to conduct two of my three potential chapters for my dissertation. My first experiment is behavioural in nature, in which I broadcast female songs (rather than traditional duet songs for fairywren studies) and present female mounts (below) alone in order to determine (1) male courtship behaviour and (2) female aggressive behaviour simultaneously. In addition, I will implant females with a potent anti-androgen in order to determine the role of testosterone in promoting/regulating female ornament expression as well as female song structure.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention – my (potentially) final golden-winged warbler publications have come out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Wilson Journal of Ornithology.


December 2017 – 

Just a quick update on this semester. I had a paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution from my time at Appalachian State University, working on a comparison between bluebird aggression with and without a dominant heterospecific competitor (tree swallows) present. Additionally, my final golden-winged warbler paper from my field site of my master’s has been accepted in Wilson’s Journal of Ornithology, set to be published in March 2018. Link will be available in my CV as soon as it is copy edited!

In Tulane news, I’ve scrapped my entire dissertation project and am currently designing a new one! Whoo! So now I’m focused more so on attempting to look at the ultimate and proximate mechanisms driving female phenotype divergence in white-shouldered fairywrens. More on that soon to be sure.

Finally, myself and Mareli Sanchez (from the Van Bael lab at Tulane) held three workshops for elementary school students on the effect of climate change on Louisiana coasts! Always a fun (and rather messy) adventure.

Until next time!

June 2017 – 

Another field season has come and gone. From March – June 2017, I spent 2.5 months in Papua New Guinea and 3 weeks in Australia conducting my second pilot field season of my dissertation as well as assisting a collaborator at Washington State University (Jordan Boersma) with research for his dissertation. As before, I traveled to Obo Village (Google Earth Obo Airport in Papua New Guinea!) in Western Province where I spent 6 weeks for Boersma’s research project before traveling to Milne Bay Province to pilot my own field work.

In Milne Bay Province, my spent time in the Alotau District, surveying birds in the villages of Porotona and Garuahi. I spent about one week at each, attempting to get a sense of what the population ecology was for each population in a rapid manner. For each population, I am interested in understanding variation in habitat structure preference, aggression response to simulated territorial intrusions, song characteristics, sex ratio, and group size.

Afterwards, I went to Australia for 3 weeks to assist another graduate student in my lab at Tulane with research on the red-backed fairywrens – I intend to make them a focal species for my upcoming research too! Also did some other light bird banding to get my Australian banding permit. But for now, I am back at home in the States, preparing for the American Ornithological Society meeting in Michigan!


November 2016 –

Hello! This is my first ever attempt at a blog post, so where to begin. My name is John Anthony Jones and I am a first year (as of Fall 2016) PhD student at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. For my dissertation, I will study ecological determinants of female-female competition, phenotypic divergence, and color evolution in fairywrens in Papua New Guinea and Australia. I will be in PNG from February 2017 through some unknown time to conduct a pilot study in Western Province.

This month, my fourth first author manuscript was accepted for publication in Ethology, which will likely become available early 2017. I will also be giving a poster at the Society for Integrative and Integrative Biology (SICB) meeting, held here in New Orleans.