“I like birds,” Professor Becky Fox admits with a smile. A first-generation college grad who grew up in a household with backyard birdwatchers and pet parrots, she finished her undergraduate degree uncertain about continuing in molecular biology. She let her love of birds guide her to the University of California, Davis, and a master’s in avian sciences. Taking classes in animal behavior and behavioral ecology, she became fascinated by some of the ecological questions and decided to stay for a Ph.D.
"Why are individuals different? That's the fundamental question."Dr. Fox is interested in individual personality in animals. Through a collaboration with the University of Kentucky’s Dave Westneat (whose son Michael Westneat ’11 attended Transy), and a grant they received from the National Science Foundation, Prof. Fox has been able to take her research on house sparrows from the indoor lab into the natural environment at Maine Chance Farm, UK’s research farm. The grant also pays her students to assist in gathering a large data set from 100-200 nest boxes.
“One of the things we’re asking in our research on house sparrows is the same question you might ask about people,” Dr. Fox explains. “Why are individuals different in how they take care of their kids? What is their sensitivity to changes in the environment?
“We understand quite a bit about personality in humans. But the question of how personality evolved is not entirely clear. That’s what I’m interested in. What’s going on physiologically that makes individuals so different, and what are the consequences?