David Lahti

Assistant Professor Department of Biology Queens College and the Graduate Center City University of New York


B.S. 1993, Gordon College, MA Ph.D. 1998, Whitefield Institute at Oxford, U.K. Ph.D. 2003, University of Michigan



Website: qcpages.qc.edu/Biology/Lahti

Tel: 718-997-3422

Overview of Research

My lab is engaged in why organisms look and act the way they do. How and why do particular traits evolve, and how is this related to the role those traits play in the lifestyle of an organism in its environment? I would consider this the central question of evolutionary ecology, a field which has been at the heart of biology ever since Darwin raised the question and proposed natural selection as a general answer. In much of my research I start addressing this question by looking at specific cases, often in birds but also in humans. Sometimes the initial questions can be very basic: How do swamp sparrows learn their songs? How does an African weaverbird defend itself against a cuckoo that lays eggs in its nest? Why do some birds lay blue eggs? In order to answer such questions I use a variety of methods including field observations and experiments, molecular genetic analyses, examination of museum specimens, and laboratory studies of captive birds. I then use the results of these studies to test general hypotheses about the evolutionary process, with the goal of developing and refining theory. Usually the results lead to as many further questions and hypotheses as they do conclusions and insights.


Journal Articles:

1. Podos, J., D. L. Moseley, S. E. Goodwin, J. McClure, B. N. Taft, A. V. H. Strauss, C. Rega-Brodsky, and D. C. Lahti. In review. A fine-scale, broadly-applicable index of vocal performance: frequency excursion. Animal Behaviour.

2. Lahti, D. C. and D. R. Ardia. In review (after minor revisions). Shedding light on bird egg color: pigment as parasol and the dark car effect. American Naturalist.

3. Habig, B. and D. C. Lahti. In review. Male risk-taking is related to number of mates in a polygynous bird. Behavioral Ecology.

4. Khan, K. and D. C. Lahti. In review. Behavioral strategies at a breeding bird colony. Journal of Field Ornithology.

5. Owen, M. A. and D. C. Lahti. 2015. Sexual dimorphism and condition dependence in the anal pad of the small Indian mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus). Canadian Journal of Zoology 93:397-402.

6. Lahti, D. C. 2015. The limits of artificial stimuli in behavioral research: the umwelt gamble. Ethology 121:529-537.

7. Habig, B. and D. C. Lahti. 2014. Heterospecific intrusions, synchronous fleeing, and nest attendance in a weaverbird colony. Journal of Ornithology 156:551-555.

8. Navarro, J. Y. and D. C. Lahti. 2014. Light dulls and darkens bird eggs. PLoS One 9:e116112.

9. Mundinger, P. C. and D. C. Lahti. 2014. The quantitative integration of genetic factors in the learning and production of canary song. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B  281:20132631.

10. Lahti, D. C. 2013. The sociality of nesting in Rüppell’s Weaver (Ploceus galbula) and the Lesser Masked Weaver (P. intermedius) in an Ethiopian acacia woodland. Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology 84:1-4.

11. Moseley, D. L., D. C. Lahti, and J. Podos. 2013. Responses to song playback vary with vocal performance of both signal senders and receivers. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 280: 20131401.

12. Johnson, N. A., D. C. Lahti, and D. T. Blumstein. 2012. Combating the assumption of evolutionary progress: lessons from the decay and loss of traits. Evolution: Education & Outreach 5:128-138.

13. Lahti, D. C., D. L. Moseley, and J. Podos. 2011. A performance-accuracy tradeoff in bird song learning. Ethology 117:1-10.

14. Lahti, D. C. 2011. Why humans discover. Euresis Journal 1:75-89.

15. Podos, J., D. C. Lahti, and D. L. Moseley. 2009. Vocal performance and sensorimotor learning in songbirds. Advances in the Study of Behavior 40:159-195.

16. Lahti, D. C. 2009. Why we have been unable to generalize about bird nest predation. Animal Conservation 12: 279-281.

17. Lahti, D. C., N. A. Johnson, B. C. Ajie, S. P. Otto, A. P. Hendry, D. T. Blumstein, R. G. Coss, K. Donohue, and S. A. Foster. 2009. Relaxed selection in the wild. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24:487-496. (Cover story).

18. Lahti, D. C. 2008. Population differentiation and rapid evolution of egg color in accordance with solar radiation. Auk 125: 796-802.

19. Lahti, D. C. 2006. Persistence of egg recognition in the absence of cuckoo brood parasitism: pattern and mechanism. Evolution 60: 157-168.

20. Lahti, D. C. and B. S. Weinstein. 2005. The better angels of our nature: group stability and the evolution of moral tension. Evolution and Human Behavior 26: 47-63.

21. Lahti, D. C. 2005. Evolution of bird eggs in the absence of cuckoo parasitism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. 102: 18057-18062.

22. Lahti, D. C. and R. B. Payne. 2003. Morphological and behavioural evidence of relationships of the cuckoo-finch Anomalospiza imberbis. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 123: 113-124.

23. Lahti, D. C. 2003. Parting with illusions in evolutionary ethics. Biology and Philosophy 18: 639-651.

24. Lahti, D. C. 2003. A case study in invasive species assessment: the village weaverbird Ploceus cucullatus. Animal Biodiversity and Conservation 26: 45-54.

25. Lahti, D. C. 2003. Cactus fruits may facilitate village weaverbird (Ploceus cucullatus) breeding in atypical habitat on Hispaniola. Wilson Bulletin 115: 487-489.

26. Lahti, D. C., A. R. Lahti, and M. Dampha. 2002. Associations between nesting village weavers Ploceus cucullatus and other animal species in The Gambia. Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology 73: 59-60.

27. Lahti, D. C. and A. R. Lahti. 2002. How precise is egg discrimination in weaverbirds? Animal Behaviour 63: 1135-1142.

28. Lahti, D. C. 2001. The ‘edge effect on nest predation’ hypothesis after 20 years. Biological Conservation 99: 365-374.


Book Chapters and Essays:

29. Maniego, C., F. C. Geller, C. Ju, K. Khan, and D. C. Lahti. 2015. Song sharing and assessment of individual identity in house finches. A white paper to accompany the house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) recordings of Paul C. Mundinger deposited at the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. 15 May, 10pp.

30. Lahti, D. C. invited. On science, nature, and ultimate purpose. (Forthcoming) in D. Alexander (ed.), Is Life Going Anywhere? Biology, Randomness, and Purpose.

31. Lahti, D. C. and F. Nottebohm. 2014. Remembering Paul Mundinger. Auk: Ornithological Advances 131:116-119.

32. Lahti, D. C. 2014. On the partnership between natural and moral philosophy. In H. Putnam, S. Neiman, and J. Schloss (eds.), Understanding Moral Sentiments. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press, pp. 229-256.

33. Lahti, D. C. 2014. On explanation in evolutionary biology. In W. Thorson (ed.), The Woodpecker’s Purpose: A Scientific and Theological Critique of Intelligent Design. Wenham, MA: Gordon College CFI, pp. 135-142.

34. Lahti, D. C. 2013. Egg. World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book.

35. Lahti, D. C. 2013. Twelve (more) things about the evolution of morality that make people nauseous. In K. Summers and B. Crespi (eds.), Human Social Evolution: The Foundational Works of Richard D. Alexander. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 307-325.

36. Lahti, D. C. 2013. Loving evolution from a distance (a review of Conor Cunningham's Darwin's Pious Idea). Science and Christian Belief 25:170-171.

37. Lahti, D. C. and C. Pytte. 2012. Sleep and bird songs. In D. Barrett and P. McNamara (eds.), Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreams. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, pp. 596-597.

38. Lahti, D. C. 2012. Review of the Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 15: Weavers to New World Warblers. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 123: 852-854.

39. Lahti, D. C. 2009. The correlated history of social organization, morality, and religion. In E. Voland and W. Schiefenhövel (eds.), The Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior. New York: Springer-Verlag, pp. 67-88.

40. Lahti, D. C. 2009. The place where extinction was discovered (A review of Lost Land of the Dodo by Anthony Cheke and Julian Hume). Journal of Field Ornithology 80:438-442.

41. Podos, J. and D. C. Lahti. 2009. Bird radiations. In R. Gillespie and D. Clague (eds.), Encyclopedia of Islands. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 105-111.

42. Lahti, D. C. 2007. Bird song and human speech. In M. Bekoff (ed.), Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

43. Lahti, D. C. 2007. Similarities in vocal learning between humans and other animals. In M. Bekoff (ed.), Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

44. Lahti, D. C. 2007. Human effects on birds. In M. Bekoff (ed.), Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

45. Lahti, D. C. 2007. Birds as symbols in human culture. In M. Bekoff (ed.), Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, pp. 451-458.

46. Lahti, D. C. 2005. The village weaverbird: marvel or menace? In R. T. Wright and B. J. Nebel, Environmental Science, 9th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, p. 96.

(Reappears in slightly altered form in 10th ed., 2007; and 11th ed., 2009).

47. Lahti, D. C. 2004. “You have heard… but I tell you…”: a test of the adaptive significance of moral evolution. In P. Clayton and J. Schloss (eds.) Evolution and Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, pp.132-150.



48. Lahti, D. C. 2003. Ecology and Evolution of Breeding Adaptations in the Village Weaverbird Ploceus cucullatus. Ph.D Dissertation, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan. 211+xiii pp.

49. Lahti, D. C. 1998. An Appraisal of Ethical Naturalism. Ph.D. Dissertation, Moral Philosophy, Whitefield Institute Oxford. 242+viii pp.

50. Lahti, D. C. 1995. The Edward Payson Vining Collection: A Guide to Literature Dealing with the American Indian. Wenham, MA: Gordon College. 424+xxxiii pp.