Mena Davidson is a PhD candidate working with Ben Dantzer at the University of Michigan, where she is interested in understanding the ways that animals use behavior to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Her dissertation research focuses on the impact of features of the social environment on discrete patterns of mating behavior in prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster). Specifically, she is interested in identifying causes and consequences of variation in reproductive decision-making and pair bonding processes.
To address these topics, Mena manipulates the social environment of free-living voles located in outdoor enclosures by removing some individuals and recording how the remaining individuals respond. She uses bio-loggers to passively record pairwise social interactions and individual movement patterns over the course of an experiment. These data are then used to conduct social network analyses in conjunction with behavioral assays, physiological biomarkers of stress and inflammation, and neurobiology relevant to variation in mating behavior. Mena aims to integrate established findings from field and laboratory studies of prairie vole mating behavior, while adding clarity to the evolution and ontogeny of discrete behavioral phenotypes more generally.