New Avian Ecology
Professor Bring South American Research Experience to UTB
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS –
FEBRUARY 3, 2014 – Dr.
Karl Berg, an Assistant Professor of Avian Ecology in the Department
of Biological Sciences at The
University of Texas at Brownsville, has worked the last decade conducting research on the
communication of parrots in South America.
Berg is working as
part of an international team on a quarter of a century study begun by Steven
Beissinger at the University
of California, Berkeley in 1988 on the breeding, behavior and demographics of
parrots at the Hato Masaguaral
Biological Reserve and Research Station near Calabozo, Venezuela.
“Parrots are smart and
it can be complicated to identify behavioral patterns,” said Berg. “They have
extremely sharp and powerful bills mainly used to crack nuts. The larger macaws
could also take off your finger.”
Ornithologist and assistant professor Karl Berg on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 on the UT Brownsville campus.
The study in Venezuela
is a unique opportunity to study how parrots communicate in nature, said Berg.
“Because the birds
have been painstakingly banded and followed for decades, today we know a lot
about each individual,” he said.
Berg joined the UTB
faculty earlier this month after serving for two years as a postdoctoral
scholar in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at
the University of California, Berkeley.
“Brownsville is a
unique geographical position for a number of reasons,” said Berg. “There are
more people that know about Brownsville in the ornithological sense than you
He said weather fronts
and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico literally blow birds off their migratory
course onto the mainland. The birds can be severely dehydrated and starving for
hours or even days at sea.
“Brownsville is all
about change,” said Berg. “In the fall birds are passing through to Central and
South America where tropical habitats provide food during the harsh North
American winter. In the spring they pass back through to exploit the plethora
of food in the North American spring and summer.”
This semester he is
teaching the lecture session for Ecology and the lecture and laboratory
sessions for Ornithology.
“I want students to
raise their conscience about the unique area they live in and how it’s
influenced by the bigger picture,” said Berg.
His research has been
published in the “Journal of Experimental Biology,” the “Proceedings of the
Royal Society of London,” “Animal Behaviour” and the “Journal of Field
Ornithology.” His research has been highlighted in “Science,” “Nature” and “The
New York Times” among other news agencies.”
Berg grew up in
central Florida and was involved in the Boy Scouts which enabled him to camp
and learn about nature.
“I think those early
experiences are important,” he said.
Berg received a
bachelor’s of business administration in 1989 from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. He said an
undergraduate ornithology class piqued his interest in outdoors and to pursue
it through academia and research.
After graduating from
UNF, Berg worked for three years in Ecuador as a field liaison with the U.S. Peace Corps coordinating conservation and wildlife
research programs for the World Wildlife Fund, the U.S. Agency for
International Development and other agencies.
He earned a master’s
degree in biology in 2004 from Florida International University in Miami. While at FIU, Berg began
seriously studying the vocal behavior of birds and has since accumulated
millions of voice recordings for species common to North and South America.
In 2011, Berg earned
his doctoral degree in neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. While at Cornell he was
a Charles Walcott Fellow and an Andrew Paul Life Sciences Fellow.