Allison Roth with “Ruby,” one of the Harris hawks used for research at the University of Oxford. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Gee

By Dr. Jennifer Gee
Director, UC Riverside James Reserve

Allison Roth, a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Nick Keiser’s lab at the University of Florida, will be launching a project with Dr. Jennifer Gee, the resident director of The James Reserve, on California quail. Roth comes to us fresh from the University of Oxford where she studied how animal personalities affect reproductive
performance in two species of birds, the great tit and the red junglefowl. We are thrilled that Roth will be spending much of 2019 and 2020 in Idyliwild and at the James Reserve, as she explores the environmental factors that shape social interactions among individual California quail.
As with extroverted and introverted people, animals seem to differ in the degree to which they are social. Roth is interested in understanding why some individual quail are very social (extroverted) while others are less social (introverted). She notes that these social strategies often remain consistent over an individual’s lifetime — even when the strategy may seem detrimental to the individual.

A California quail. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Gee

For instance, an individual who is extroverted may have contact with lots of other individuals and be at a disadvantage when a contagious disease breaks out.
Nevertheless, when disease hits, this individual often does not change its extroverted tendencies of socializing.
Roth equates this phenomenon in wild animals to a school child who has a lot of friends being more likely to come home sick with the flu than a child who spends more time by themselves. In contrast, when disease levels are low, extroverted quail may be at an advantage, compared to introverted individuals, because they may be more likely to acquire information about food or predators from other birds, which would increase their chances of survival.
California quail (pictured) are a charismatic backyard bird with a charming call and an unpredictable gait and flight, which helps them evade predators. During the nonbreeding season (winter), these birds forage, roost and travel in groups called coveys. Roth will be comparing the social interactions of California quail in Idyllwild with the social interactions of this species at other southern California localities, including Anza-Borrego and Royal Carrizo (just below Pinyon Crest).
She predicts that extroverted individuals living in localities with high disease abundance (specifically avian malaria) will be more likely to die or will have lower reproductive success than introverted individuals. Furthermore, she predicts that if extroverted individuals are more likely to die or produce fewer offspring in environments with higher disease risk, then this should result in a higher prevalence of introverted individuals at these locations. She predicts that this will feed back onto the overall social structure seen in quail coveys — coveys in high-disease environments being less tightly knit than coveys in low disease environments.
The quail team involved in this work is looking for citizen scientists who might be interested in helping out with this project. If you have lots of quail around your property, we would appreciate if you would let us use your property as a field site. Please contact Allison Roth ([email protected]) or Jennifer Gee ( if you would like to get involved in this new and exciting project.