Cynthia Ursino, PhD

I've always been fascinated by animal social behaviors, and interactions between species. I have centered my research on understanding the evolution of reproductive strategies, such as cooperative breeding and brood parasitism, in birds, combining behavioral observations, genetics analysis, and field experiments.


I am currently studying the social and genetic mating systems of Shiny and Screaming Cowbirds in South America. Mating systems of brood parasites are of special interest because they have evolved in the absence of parental care. Brood parasites are therefore expected to be more promiscuous. However, behavioral observations suggest that Shiny Cowbirds are indeed promiscuous, but for Screaming Cowbirds observations suggest that they may actually be monogamous. Using double-digest restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (ddRad-seq) and mitochondrial DNA, the families group will be reconstruct.

During my PhD, I worked on a unique study system from South America, consisting of three species sharing one nest: two closely related brood parasites, the specialist Screaming Cowbird (Molothrus rufoaxillaris) and generalist Shiny Cowbird (M. bonariensis), and a shared cooperative breeder host, the Baywing (Agelaioides badius). I described the social system of the host Baywing using observational and behavioral data and the Baywing’s genetic mating system. Also, I studied the evolution of host-parasites interactions in this system with special emphasis on vocal mimicry. 


Princeton University
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
106A Guyot Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
[email protected]