NYCEP Alumnus Profile

Danielle Whittaker

Managing Director BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action Michigan State University


B.A. 1996, Emory University Ph.D. 2005, City University of New York




Overview of Research

My research focuses on avian chemical communication. For many decades many people believed birds had little to no sense of smell, but we now know that preen oil, secreted by the uropygial gland and used to protect feathers, contains volatile compounds that give birds a distinct odor and can be detected and used to distinguish individuals. I am interested in what information is contained in avian odor, the mechanisms that produce this odor, and how birds detect odor and incorporate this information into mate choice.


Whittaker, D. J., N. M. Gerlach, H. A. Soini, M. V. Novotny, and E. D. Ketterson. In review. Bird odour predicts reproductive success. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Atwell, J. W., G. C. Cardoso, D. J. Whittaker, T. D. Price, and E. D. Ketterson. In review. Testosterone mediates successful establishment of a songbird population in a novel environment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Rosvall, K. A., D. G. Reichard, S. Ferguson, D. J. Whittaker, and E. D. Ketterson. 2012. Robust behavioral effects of song in the absence of testosterone or corticosterone release in two songbird populations. Hormones and Behavior. In press.

Atwell, J. W., G. C. Cardoso, D. J. Whittaker, K. W. Robertson, S. J. Campbell-Nelson, E. D. Ketterson. 2012. Boldness and stress physiology in a novel urban environment suggest rapid evolutionary adaptation. Behavioral Ecology 23: 960-969.

Peterson, M. P., D. J. Whittaker, S. Ambreth, S. Sureshchandra, K. Mockaitis, A. Buechlein, R. Podicheti, J.-H. Choi, Z. Lai, J. Colbourne, H. Tang, and E. D. Ketterson. 2012. De novo transcriptome sequencing in a songbird, the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis): Genomic tools for an ecological model system. BMC Genomics 13: 305.

Whittaker, D. J., A. L. Dapper, M. P. Peterson, J. W. Atwell, and E. D. Ketterson. 2012. Maintenance of MHC Class IIB diversity in a recently established songbird population. Journal of Avian Biology 43: 109-118.

Whittaker, D. J., H. A. Soini, N. M. Gerlach, A. L. Posto, M. V. Novotny, and E. D. Ketterson. 2011. Role of testosterone in stimulating seasonal changes in a potential avian chemosignal. Journal of Chemical Ecology 37: 1349-1357.

Whittaker, D. J., K. M. Richmond, A. K. Miller, R. Kiley, C. Bergeon Burns, J. W. Atwell, and E. D. Ketterson. 2011. Intraspecific preen oil odor preferences in dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis). Behavioral Ecology 22: 1256-1263.

Whittaker, D. J., H. A. Soini, J. W. Atwell, C. Hollars, M. V. Novotny, and E. D. Ketterson. 2010. Songbird chemosignals: Preen oil volatile compounds vary among individuals, sexes, and populations. Behavioral Ecology 21:608-614. ( DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arq033)

McGlothlin, J. W., D. J. Whittaker, S. E. Schrock, N. M. Gerlach, J. M. Jawor, E. A. Snajdr, and E. D. Ketterson. 2010. Natural selection on testosterone production in a wild songbird population. American Naturalist 175: 687-701. (DOI: 10.1086/652469 )

Whittaker, D. J., D. G. Reichard, A. L. Dapper, and E. D. Ketterson. 2009. Behavioral responses of nesting females to hetero- and conspecific passerine odors. Journal of Avian Biology 40: 579-583.

Whittaker, D. J., J. C. Morales, and D. J. Melnick. 2007. Resolution of the Hylobates phylogeny: congruence of mitochondrial D-loop sequences with molecular, behavioral, and morphological datasets. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45: 620-628. 

Whittaker, D. J. 2006. Conservation action plan for the Mentawai primates. Primate Conservation 20: 95-106. 

Whittaker, D. J., N. Ting, D. J. Melnick. 2006. Molecular phylogenetic affinities of the simakobu monkey (Simias concolor). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39: 887-892. 

Whittaker, D. J. 2005. New population estimates for the Kloss’s gibbon (Hylobates klossii). Oryx 39: 458-461.