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Eleanor Caves '11 Awarded Downing Scholarship to Study at Cambridge

Eleanor Caves, Pomona College Class of 2011, has been awarded the prestigious Downing Scholarship. The award underwrites a one-year exchange to Downing College at the University of Cambridge and covers tuition, fees, living expenses and round-trip travel, as well as a stipend for books, local travel and personal expenses.  The program is a special arrangement between Pomona and Downing College.

Caves, who double majored in biology and math, will pursue a Masters in Philosophy, in the Zoology Department’s Behavioral Ecology Group. Her broad area of interest is the evolution of species behaviors and interactions, which she credits to Pomona’s Biology Department.

“All of my biology classes at Pomona did a wonderful job of presenting big questions in an evolutionary light, and it was that perspective that always got me most excited in class.  Whether I was studying neuroscience or insect behavior, I was always most interested in how complex behaviors in species and the ecosystems we see today could have possibly evolved…. [The] biggest influence [on me] was my advisor--Dr. Nina Karnovsky.  She got me really interested in field work and ecology to begin with, and really helped me along the way by helping me to get field jobs that gave me excellent research experience.”

Caves’ senior thesis was "A Study on the Cassin's Auklets of Southeast Farallon Island: Using Time-Depth Recorders to Examine Relationships between Foraging Behavior, Temperature, and Reproductive Success." For the project, she used the seabirds as indicators of environmental change in the California Current, particularly in the Gulf of the Farallones. The birds were fitted with small recording devices to measure temperature and pressure every five seconds, so that Caves could examine their foraging behavior in different climatic conditions.

At the University of Cambridge, Caves will study the evolution of color and pattern in Brood Parasite eggs, using a collection of 12,000 clutches of eggs gathered by a British Major, over the last 40 years, in Zambia.

“Brood Parasites are birds that can't make their own nests, and so lay their eggs in the nests of other birds (hosts) and rely on deception to get the host bird to incubate their egg and raise their chick,” she explains. “Eggs contain a wealth of visual data, and…variation in appearance amongst individual eggs could make host eggs more difficult to forge.  Thus, co-evolutionary arms races might develop between hosts evolving new ‘signatures’ on their eggs, and parasites in turn evolving new forgeries.”

Caves will focus on two host families, African warblers and Weaverbirds, and apply models of avian vision during data analysis. “I am excited to have found Master’s degree research that will be my own work, from data collection through to analysis, and that investigates species interactions—two aspects of research about which I am most passionate,” says Caves.

Following the program at the University of Cambridge, Caves plans to spend a year doing more fieldwork or working for a private, environmental protection organization or a governmental agency such as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She then plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology.

Caves is a resident of Albuquerque, N.M., and is the daughter of Karen Kahn and Carlton Caves, who are both residents of Albuquerque.

Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, offers a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research. Pomona College is the founding member of the Claremont Colleges.