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March 24, 2014

Grad at a Glance: Cara Krieg

In the animal kingdom, sometimes nice girls finish last, according to the research of Cara Krieg.

Krieg, a doctoral student of zoology, studies female-to-female aggression in a population of house wrens, a species of songbird small enough to fit in the palm of a human hand. More aggressive female wrens tend to make better mothers, according to Krieg’s research.

“We’ve found a correlation between female aggression and the size of a mother’s babies,” Krieg said. “If baby wrens grow bigger, they are more likely to survive migration. Therefore, more hostile mothers produce offspring that are more likely to be built to survive.”

Krieg said female aggression has been an overlooked phenomenon in behavioral ecology; aggression has historically been pegged as a characteristic to look for in males. She cited her work as an example of the value of approaching scientific research from different perspectives.

“Like with humans, people have certain expectations for female behaviors,” Krieg said. “Observing aggressive females in nature certainly challenges that perspective. It’s always cool when science shows us something we wouldn’t expect.”

In the Kellogg Biological Station, Krieg conducts her research with a number of faculty members and fellow graduate and undergraduate natural science students. The self-proclaimed animal lover said her time at MSU has assured her higher education was the right career path.

“I loved animal books as a kid. The interest has always been there,” Krieg said. “When I started to realize some professors spend their whole life studying animal behavior, pursuing a graduate degree became increasingly appealing, and MSU has been a great fit for me.”

Upon graduation, Krieg would like to secure a university faculty position to continue researching and share her excitement for animal behavior with students. She said her love for the hands-on research she’s had the chance to do keeps her wanting more.

“When I hold an animal in my hand and it’s two inches away from my face…the thrill of that never goes away,” Krieg said. “That’s why I’d like to continue doing it for a very long time.”