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Why do individuals differ in how they respond to changes in their environment?

Evidence suggests that the majority of variation in reaction norms within populations is produced by variation in the environment, not genes. Thus, evolution has seemingly shaped the multidimensional reaction norm surface (GxExE) instead of the unidimensional reaction norm itself (GxE). Yet, little is known about how these multidimensional reaction norms evolve. 

Further, organisms express myriad  traits over their lifetime, and the environment can directly modify the co-expression of these traits. Thus, evolution may also shape the covariation of traits itself. If this is the case, then we cannot understand the evolution of plasticity from a univariate perspective.

I aim to chip away at this complexity by (1) analyzing real data using newly developed Bayesian multivariate modelling approaches and by (2) simulating data and utilizing theoretical models. 

Cones AG, Schneider ER, Westneat DF. (2024) The incubation environment does not explain significant variation in heart rate plasticity among avian embryos. Journal of Experimental Biology, 227: jeb247120.

Westneat DF, Young, RC, Cones, AG, Kucera, AC, Anacleto, A, Heidinger, BJ. (2023) "Early-life telomeres are influenced by environments acting at multiple temporal and spatial scales" Molecular Ecology, 325959-5970.

Cones AG, Liebl, AL, Russell, AF. (2023) "Helpers are associated with increased nest attentiveness and more constant temperatures in chestnut-crowned babblers" Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 77.


Cones, AG, Westneat, DF. (2023) "Variation in embryonic metabolic reaction norms and the role of the environment" Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 96: 260-271.


West, AK, Xu, EM, Nelson, MD, Hart, TR, Stricker, EM, Cones, AG, Martin, GM, Strickland, K, Lambert, DL, Burman, L, Zhu, BH, Schneider, ER. (2022) "Quantitiative evaluation of tactile foraging behavior in Pekin and Muscovy ducks" Frontiers in Physiology: Avian Physiology, 13:

Cones, AG, Liebl, AL, Houslay, TM, Russell, AF. (2020) "Temperature‐mediated plasticity in incubation schedules is unlikely to evolve to buffer embryos from climatic challenges in a seasonal songbird" Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 33(12): (short-listed for ESEB Stearns prize 2020); (article about study published in Natural History Magazine)


Cones, AG, Crowley, PH. (2020) "Optimal maternal incubation strategies for altricial and precocial birds" Ecological Modelling, 436:109290.


Capp, E, Liebl, AL, Cones, AG, Russell, AF. (2017) "Advancing breeding phenology does not affect incubation schedules in chestnut-crowned babblers: Opposing effects of temperature and wind" Ecology and Evolution, 8(1) 696-705:








Deutsche Research Foundation post-doctoral fellowship

AOS-SCO Travel award

ISBE Travel award

UKY Biology Morgan fellowship

UKY BIology Merit fellowship

Gertrude Flora Ribble Graduate Fellowship







Conference Presentations

AOS-SCO 2023

ISBE 2022

ABS 2019

ISBE 2018


SICB 2017

ASAB 2016

ISBE 2016









Incubation does not explain significant variation in metabolic plasticity among embryos

Multidimensional phenotypic plasticity: hierarchical sources of variance in the reaction norms of avian embryos

Optimizing embryonic development: a model of the incubation-foraging trade-off

More than temperature: plasticity in embryonic development in the chestnut-crowned babbler 

Plasticity of embryo heart rates in the cooperative chestnut-crowned babbler 

The Secret Life of the Avian Embryo: Environmental and intrinsic effects on embryo heart rate in the chestnut-crowned babbler 

Plasticity of embryo heart rates in the cooperative chestnut-crowned babbler

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