Investigating the Effects of Climate Change on Hummingbird Sensory Landscapes

2020 Faculty Research Award

Award Period: 2020-2022

Mary Caswell Stoddard, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, will investigate how climate change may be altering the landscape of sensory information that animals use to survive and reproduce. Working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Colorado, the Stoddard Lab will deploy innovative wide-angle, ultraviolet-sensitive “bird vision” cameras that capture the landscape as it is seen by broad-tailed hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus). Hummingbirds are crucial pollinators that have precise migratory and breeding patterns that align with the availability of particular flowers.

Stoddard seeks to gauge whether the birds rely on specific color signals to locate and remember flowers, and if that color-scape is changing as spring flowers bloom increasingly earlier in the Rocky Mountains. Field experiments on hummingbird color perception and cognition will determine if the floral color-scape influences how and when the birds begin foraging each year. The researchers also will use camera traps and deep learning motion-detection software to quantify how often hummingbirds visit certain flowers. The researchers will then work to predict how that sensory landscape has changed in the past 40 years, how it could change in the future, and, finally, the potential effect this transition would have on broad-tailed hummingbird foraging behavior and cognition. This project builds on Stoddard’s 2018 Grand Challenges project that studied broad-tailed hummingbirds at RMBL to identify influences of climate change on pollinator-plant dynamics.

From left to right: A male broad-tailed hummingbird forages from a glacier lily. Wildflowers in bloom at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Glacier lilies as viewed by a normal camera (top) and an ultraviolet-sensitive camera (bottom). (Photos by Cole Morokhovich and Ben Hogan)

Educational Impact

Princeton undergraduate students will be able to apply for a special two-year research fellowship composed of independent summer fieldwork at RMBL and computational work in the Stoddard Lab during the academic year. RMBL is the summer base of more than 150 biologists engaged in workshops, classes and seminars geared toward undergraduate researchers. During the second year, students will be encouraged to develop independent projects that can evolve into publishable senior thesis research. Finally, undergraduates will help pioneer the collection of “bird vision” hyperspectral data in the field and will design a unique database for the broader scientific community.

Alice Egar, Class of 2021, at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

Participating Departments

Collaborating Institutions


Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Research Associates

Ben Hogan, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Undergraduate Students

  • Alice Egar ‘21
  • Misha Kummel ‘22