Nandadevi Cortes-Rodriguez, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Ithaca College Department of Biology, has been awarded the Edwards Prize for the best paper of the year published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. The prestigious journal is issued by the Wilson Ornithological Society, founded in 1888 and named for Alexander Wilson, considered the father of American ornithology.
The paper examined molecular and morphological data for genetic differences between northern and southern populations of the Yellow-backed Oriole, which are found in Central and South America, with a gap in Costa Rica. The research found surprising similarities between the two populations, given that gap.
Cortes-Rodriguez says this kind of research is important for conservation purposes as well as for understanding the dynamics of populations in the wild.
“We don’t really know why it is absent in Costa Rica, but we think it could be because of competition with other bird species, probably another Oriole,” says Cortes-Rodriguez. “What we found is that even though they are separated by nearly 400 miles, the northern and southern populations are still having gene flow, meaning that they cross that barrier looking for mates. This is surprising since there is no gene flow between this Oriole and its sister species, Audubon’s Oriole, across a shorter gap of 30 miles (the Isthmus of Tehuantepec).”
Cortes-Rodriguez teaches courses in principles of biology and evolutionary biology. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and was a research technician at the Center for Conservation Genomics in the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
As part of her postdoctoral fellowship, Cortes-Rodriguez is conducting research on Ravens that have populations on islands and mainland. “Studying birds on islands is interesting because they offer a unique example of isolated populations that may or may not have a different genetic history than those on the mainland,” she says.
Cortes-Rodriguez was appointed last year as the college’s first postdoctoral teaching fellow, as part of an expansion of the Diversity Scholars Program to include the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.