College of Science

David Luther, PhD

Term Associate Professor, Department of Biology

Faculty Directory

Research Focus

My research focuses on behavioral ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. Students in my lab investigate how species respond to their surrounding environment and alterations to those environments. We use a combination of field and laboratory techniques to address research topics and work in a wide range of ecosystems. Much of our research on animal communication focuses on the ecology and evolution of acoustic signals, such as bird songs. Currently, this work centers on the problem of communicating in the presence of background noise, both natural and human generated. Components of this research range from acoustic partitioning of sound space in species-rich environments, such as the Amazon basin, to the production and perception of signals in the presence of human-generated sounds, such as rush hour traffic. Current and recent study sites include Virginia, California, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. Our conservation management research aims to maximize the efficacy of conservation management strategies for threatened and endangered species. The research uses large data sets from the IUCN to understand how each class of conservation actions is most effective at improving the status of threatened species.

Current Projects

■ Maximizing the efficacy of conservation actions for threatened species: projects are assessing a wide range of management actions from ecological restoration to reintroduction programs of captive bred animals.

■ The effects of forest fragmentation on community structure. We are working in the Biological Dynamics Forest Fragmentation Project site in Amazonian Brazil and investigating the ecological interactions of species in a tropical setting and then how fragmentation of forested habitats alters those interactions.

■ The role of background noise on the ecology and evolution of animal behavior and communication strategies. Here we are investigating how natural and human made noises effect the behaviors of wild animals.

Select Publications

Moseley, D. L., et al. (2018). Acoustic adaptation to city noise through vocal learning by a songbird. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 285(1888), 20181356.

Phillips, J. N., et al. (2018). Surviving in the city: higher apparent survival for urban birds but worse condition on noisy territories. Ecosphere, 9(9), e02440.

■ Luther D and R Danner. 2016. Birds with larger bills are more active in the heat: support for the bill as a thermoregulatory organ. The Auk, 133(4): 770-778.

Luther, D. A., et al. (2016). Determinants of bird conservation‐action implementation and associated population trends of threatened species. Conservation Biology, 30(6), 1338-1346.



Phone: 703-993-5267