Piotr G. Jablonski

Professor School of Biological Sciences, Seoul National University, Korea

Senior Research FellowUCLA Center for Tropical Research

Email: piotrjab@behecolpiotrsangim.org
Tel: +82 10 3239 1959


Laboratory of Behavior Ecology and Evolution
Building 502, Room 331
School of Biological Sciences
College of Natural Sciences
Seoul National University

San 56-1 Shilim-Dong, Kwanak-Gu
Seoul 151-747, Korea

Representative Research Interests

My research links processes at the level of an organism and its sensory and neural pathways, with evolutionary and ecological consequences of animal behavior. I conduct research in several areas of animal behavior, most of which involve field experiments. Interests in evolution of flush-pursuing birds and their ecology are taking my research into the tropical regions, where most of these birds live.

Predator-prey Coevolution: Flush pursuing birds and their prey

My research on flush-pursuing birds and their insect prey illustrate how relatively simple properties at the level of neural pathways may be exploited by predators, if it happens in multispecies predator assemblages.

Insects have simple neural pathways that mediate antipredatory escape behaviors in response to predator's approach. In experiments on live birds, and using bird models, I showed that Painted Redstarts (Myioborus pictus) use conspicuous plumage displays of open tail and wings and body pivoting to visually stimulate the escape pathways that trigger escape responses in insects. The flushed insects are pursued in aerial chases. I proposed that redstarts may benefit from the displays by directing insect escapes across bird's stereoscopic field of vision where it is easier to track and catch the prey. My field ornithological studies showed that flush-pursuing birds adjust their search rates to optimize foraging for the conspicuously escaping prey. Field observations and aviary experiments showed that redstarts use the flush-displays when substrate surfaces are present near, and especially above, the bird where prey may be located and susceptible to flushing. Observations of hand raised fledglings showed that the motor patterns of the flush-display, as well as the above-mentioned context-dependence, are heritable traits, and that cultural transmission is not required for young birds to use flush-displays.

I showed that the flush-displays are tuned to the sensory properties of escape pathways in Brachyceran flies, and that the characteristics of the escape pathways drive the evolution of flush-displays. Dipterous prey of redstarts initiate the escape when a threshold level of visual stimulation is reached, regardless of the species of approaching bird. I have proposed that, due to such simplicity of the prey escape pathway and the resulting inability of prey to distinguish among various predators, the prey evolves sensitivity which optimizes prey escape behavior with respect to the average predation risk from an assemblage of insectivorous birds. In the recent electrophysiological study of Diptera we propose a neurophysiological mechanism that might be responsible for the evolution of disparity in conspicuousness between flush-pursuers and other insectivorous birds. We think that the visual stimulation from less conspicuous common birds leads in an insect prey to escapes at a distance that which increases prey survival taking into account a trade off between risk of detection on a substrate and the costs of escape flights. Redstarts exploit this sensitivity by visually "over-stimulating" the escape circuits so that they trigger escapes at larger distances to the predator. This leads to higher foraging success in Redstarts.

In collaborative research projects, we conduct field experiments in Costa Rica to explain geographical variation in the plumage characters displayed during flush-pursue foraging by various subspecies of Myioborus miniatus. This will lead, in the future, to our collaborative studies of morphological variation among various species of the genus Myioborus distributed across Central and South America.

Sexual selection, function, and evolution of signals: Birds and waterstriders

  • In a collaborative study I investigate the role of song complexity, plumage coloration and nest building behavior in the context of mate attraction and sexual selection in the Painted Redstart.
  • Individual recognition based on vocalizations is a relatively new area of research. We showed that Mexican Jays (Aphelocoma ultramarina) recognize social group membership on the basis of vocalizations.

Competition for resources in social groups: Birds

In a collaborative study we described "producer" and "scrounger" strategies in social groups of the Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma ultramarina). Using field experiments on wild birds we showed that the effect of dominance on the "producer-scrounger" roles in birds is mediated by preferences of scrounging birds (birds that take food found by others) to join producers (birds that search actively for food) with lower dominance rank. Prior to our experiments, evolutionary models of the producer-scrounger interactions did not take such preferences into account. We also showed costs to producers of being joined by scroungers.


2002: Habilitation, Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Ecology.
1991: Ph.D., Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Ecology.
1985: M.Sc., University of Warsaw, Department of Biology

Professional Appointments

2002-present: Associate Professor (tenured), Polish Academy of Sciences, Center for Ecological Studies, Poland.
1992-2002: Assistant Professor, Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Ecology, Poland.
1995-2005: Research Scientist/Visiting Scholar, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA,
1993: Postdoctoral Associate, University of New York, Albany, USA
1992: Research Visitor, University of New York, Binghampton, USA
1992: Postdoctoral Associate, University of New York, Albany, USA

Selected Publications

  • Jablonski, P.G., McInerney C. 2005. Prey escape direction is influenced by the pivoting displays of flush-pursuing birds. Ethology 111: 1-16.
  • Jablonski, P.G. 2002. Searching for conspicuous versus cryptic prey: a field study and a review of search rates of flush-pursuing versus substrate-gleaning birds. Condor 104: 657-661.
  • Jablonski P.G. , Strausfeld N.J. 2001. Exploitation of an ancient escape circuit by an avian predator: relationships between taxon-specific prey escape circuits and the sensitivity to visual cues from the predator. Brain Behavior and Evolution 58: 218-240
  • Jablonski P.G. 2001. Sensory exploitation of prey: manipulation of initial direction of prey escapes by a conspicuous "rare enemy". Proceedings of the Royal Society London, B, 268: 1017-1022
  • Hopp, S. L. , Jablonski P.G. & Brown J.L. 2001. Recognition of Group Membership by Voice in Mexican Jays (Aphelocoma ultramarina). Animal Behaviour, 62 (2): 297-303.
  • Matyjasiak P. & Jablonski P.G. 2001. Hypothetical mechanisms of the initial evolution of sexually dimorphic tail streamers in Hirundinidae. Evolution 55 (2): 446-448.
  • Jablonski P.G. , Strausfeld N.J. 2000. Exploitation of an ancient escape circuit by an avian predator: prey sensitivity to model predator display in the field. Brain, Behavior and Evolution 56: 94-106
  • Barber M.B., Barber D.R. & Jablonski P.G. 2000. Painted Redstart (Myioborus pictus).In: The Birds of North America, (A.Poole & F.Gill,eds). No 528, The Birds of North America Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
  • Matyjasiak P. , Jablonski P. G., Olejniczak I., & Boniecki P. 2000. Imitating early evolution of an ornament: a test with Sand Martin females, Evolution, 54 (2): 704-711.
  • Jablonski P. 1999. A rare predator exploits prey escape behavior: the role of tail fanning and plumage contrast in foraging of the painted redstart (Myioborus pictus). Behavioral Ecology, 10: 7-14
  • Jablonski P. 1996. Dark habitats and bright birds: warblers may use wing patches to flush prey. Oikos, 75 (2): 350-352.

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