Research InterestsGWCS.png

The work of our labs focuses on the mechanisms regulating behavior and seasonal cycles, with the primary foci being on reproduction and migration respectively. We seek to understand the interaction of organisms and their environments through exploration of endocrine and neuro-endocrine mechanisms. By combining field techniques with controlled laboratory experiments.

Study System

Currently the focal system of the Wingfield and Ramenofsky labs is the White-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). The white-crown system provides unique benefits for comparative studies of behavior and endocrinology. Consisting of multiple sub-species ranging from the resident (Z. leucophrys nuttalli) to long distance migrants (Z. leucophrys gambelli) and altitudinal migrants (Z, leucophrys oriantha), allowing for robust comparisons of differing life history strategies and their underlying mechanisms.

In addition to our main work with the white-crown system, we have also worked with numerous other bird species. Other current projects include work on American Tree Sparrows and Lapland Longspurs (this study also includes Gambel's white-crowns) breeding in the arctic as part of a multi-trophic level study looking at effects of climate change on community composition and success.

Techniques Employed/Resources

Our labs employ a variety of techniques from the molecular to field and behavioral methods. Below is a list of techniques and resources currently available (accurate as of 2/4/2013):

Molecular Techniques

  • Radioimmunoassays (RIAs): For the measurement of hormones from plasma (and other select tissues). Please note all current assays are presently optimized for avian systems, though many may be transferable to other species. Transferability will depend upon the degree of homology between your systems variant and the avian version. Most of the steroid assays have levels of detectability around 0.4ng/mL.
Steroid RIA
- Corticosterone
- Testosterone
- 5-alpha-Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)
-Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
Peptide RIA
-Luteinizing Hormone (active once annually)
Other RIA
-Thyroid Hormones: Thyroxine & (currently undergoing validation)

  • Partition Column Chromatography: This technique allows for the of multiple hormones from a single plasma sample, coupled with the standard RIA techniques above we are able to measure levels of several hormones from a single small plasma sample. Briefly, hormones are extracted from plasma using either dicholormethane or ethyl ether, reconstituted in a mixture of ethyl acetate and isoctane and then added to a celite column which is composed of a water trap and a glycol trap. The steroids become trapped in the glycol trap and can be washed of the column by increasing the polarity of the mobile phases. The figure below shows an example of an extraction profile from a single column for four different androgens. external image placeholder?w=NaN&h=NaN
    Extraction Androgens Profile.png

  • Binding Globulin Assays
    -Corticosterone Binding Globulin
    -Others can be run but exact protocol would have to be worked out(ie sex steroid binding globulin, thyroid binding globulin, progesterone binding globulin and etc)
  • PCR
- A majority of the PCR performed is for sexing white-crowned sparrows.
  • ICC and in Situ
These techniques are performed in collaboration with other labs which include Dr. George Bentley at the University of California Berkeley and Dr. Simone Meddle at the Universtiy of Edinburgh. The lab has used these techniques for GnIH, GnRH-l, GnRH-ll, mineralocorticoid receptor(MR) and glucocorticoid receptor(GR).

Field Techniques

  • Radiotelemetry
  • Heart Rate Telemetry
  • Capture, Banding, Blood and Tissue Collection for Songbirds
  • Simulated Territorial Intrusions

Other Laboratory Resources

  • Activity Monitoring System
  • Hormonal/Drug Implants
  • Avian surgery
  • in situ and immunocytochemistry(ICC) work (through collaborators)
  • Scintillation Counter
  • Gamma Counter
  • CBG Harvester
  • PCR Thermocycler

Selected Publications

Breuner, C.W., Orchinik, M., Hahn, T.P., Meddle, S.L., Moore, I.T., Owen-Ashley, N.T., Sperry, T.S., and Wingfield, J.C. (2003). Differential mechanisms for regulation of the stress response across latitudinal gradients. American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 285, R594-R600.
McEwen, B.S., and Wingfield, J.C. (2003). The concept of allostasis in biology and biomedicine. Hormones and Behavior 43, 2-15.
Ramenofsky, M. and J. Wingfield (2007). "Regulation of Migration." BioScience 57(2): 135-145.
Ramenofsky, M., J.M. Cornelius, and B. Helm. Published Online 2012. Physiological and behavioral responses of migrants to environmental cues. Journal of Ornithology.
Wingfield, J.C. (2008). Comparative endocrinology, environment and global change. General and Comparative Endocrinology 157, 207-216.
Wingfield, J.C., and Farner, D.S. (1975). The determination of five steroids in avian plasma by radioimmunoassay and competitive protein-binding. Steroids 26, 311-327.
Wingfield, J.C., and Farner, D.S. (1978). The Annual Cycle of Plasma irLH and Steroid Hormones in Feral Populations of the White-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii. Biology of Reproduction 19, 1046-1056.
Wingfield, J. C. (2011). "Organism–environment interactions in a changing world: a mechanistic approach." Journal of Field Ornithology 152 (Suppl 1): S279-S288

Current Students & Postdocs

Helen Chmura
Jesse Krause
Jonathan Perez
Karen Word
Rebecca Calisi
Zoltan Nemeth


John C. Wingfield Faculty Profile
Marilyn Ramenofsky Faculty Profile