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Photo: Robert Lachlan

Research Interests

Broadly, I am interested in how natural and sexual selection interact to shape signaling and mate choice in animals.

I am currently a PhD student in the Nowicki Lab at Duke University. My present research explores the effects of  recently-acquired infection on sexual signaling in a seasonally breeding bird, the swamp sparrow. I am testing the extent to which males are able to mask behavioral evidence of disease when acquiring a mate. 


Previously, I was a member of the Derryberry Lab at Tulane University and the University of Tennessee. There I led a project involving song, cognitive skills, and female preference in zebra finches (for more details, please click the "foraging assays and mate choice" link below). I also worked on a project that examined the behavioral and transcriptomic effects of heat stress in zebra finches.


Areas of Research

selected Publications


Howell, C., Anderson, R., and Derryberry, E. 2019.  “Problem-solving ability and mass affect different

aspects of female choice in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)”. Animal Cognition (

Howell, C., Anderson, R., and Derryberry, E. 2020.“Female zebra finches prefer the songs of males

who quickly solve a novel foraging task to the songs of males unable to solve the task​.Ecology and Evolution.(



Bachelor of Arts

2013 - 2017
Summa Cum Laude

I received a Bachelors of Arts in English with an emphasis in non-fiction writing. 




2013 - 2017 
Summa Cum Laude 

with Honors in Neuroscience

I received a Bachelor of Science with Honors in Neuroscience. I worked in Elizabeth Derryberry's lab as an undergraduate, and my Honors Thesis was on the role of cognitive ability in song quality and female mate choice in zebra finches.


University of Tennessee 

Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

2017 - 2019

I joined the Derryberry lab in their move to Knoxville. My master's thesis was on thermoregulatory behavior in zebra finches. 


Duke University

Department of Biology

2019 - present

I am currently a PhD student in the Biology Department of Duke University co-advised by Steve Nowicki and Susan Alberts.


I am also the Senior Graduate Student of the Nowicki Lab, so please feel free to contact me with any official Nowicki Lab graduate student business. If I am not available, try Katie or Danae.



I am currently involved with Darwin Day Roadshow and the University Scholars program at Duke, and have been involved in the past with UTK's Darwin Day, KidsU, Girls in STEM, Upward Bound, and the Knoxville Boys and Girls club. I have developed several evolution-themed games and lesson plans for middle and high-schoolers, which are available for anyone to use at the link below.  

Outreach II
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