Welcome Kristal Cain - NEW SE

Submitted by Michi on 31 July 2023.


Kristal is a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, NZ. Get to know her better in the interview below!

Keywords: behaviour, sex differences, hormones, evolutionary ecology, vocal learning, sleep

Personal website   Twitter: @ke_cain


1. What's your main research focus at the moment?

I’m an integrative organismal biologist, and a bit of a magpie when it comes to shiny new research projects – so I have a lot going on. Overall, my research falls into three general areas – 1) what are the causes and consequences of competition in female birds (hormones, colour, song, parental care and reproductive success); 2) when and why did vocal learning evolve (old and weird species, new and weird methods); and 3) how important is sleep for bird’s vocal communication – and is anthropogenic light and noise and important factor (altered performance, altered learning, altered ecology).

2. Can you describe your research career? Where, what, when?

My undergrad was in wildlife ecology at Texas A&M University and after graduating I worked as a wildlife biologist for some years before returning to academia. I then completed a PhD in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour at Indiana University, my thesis focused on female dark-eyed juncos. I moved to Australia for my postdoc years, and was based at Australian National University, where I worked on fairywrens and Gouldian finches – colour, song, hormones and behaviour. I was offered a lectureship at the University of Auckland in 2016 and have been here ever since.

3. How come that you became a scientist with an interest in birds?

I was that obnoxiously curious kid always asking why and constantly catching snakes and lizards. I wouldn’t do my homework, but I would read the encyclopaedia entries for every animal – so I think science was always in my future. Birds, in particular, happened by accident. I was a generalist when I started my PhD but fell in love with bird fieldwork. Some of the postdoc opportunities I pursued focused on other taxa (mammals, lizards), but in the end, the birds kept drawing me back. I think this is primarily due to how easy – relatively speaking - they are to observe living their lives, and because their sensory systems are so similar to our own.

4. What do you do when you're not working?

I have been playing ultimate frisbee for an alarmingly long time and am somehow still going. It keeps me active and shuts off the academic brain for a while, which is important. My partner and I also have a pattern of buying solid but tired old homes and doing the remodelling work ourselves. I love gardening, hiking and slow travels.