Jessica A. Cusick, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

NIH Common Themes in Reproductive Diversity (NIH T32)

Indiana University


Research Interests:

- Cooperation and Conflict

- Individual Variation and Personality

- Stress Physiology

- Host Microbiome Relationships

- Interspecific Interactions

- Breeding and Mating Tactics

- Communication

- Conservation

My research links behavior, ecology, physiology, microbiology, and evolutionary biology to investigate the developmental processes and mechanisms that affect within-population variation in behavior. Using an integrative approach that combines experimental research in the field and laboratory with microbial, physiological and genetic techniques, I aim to understand how genetic, physiological, and environmental cues interact to influence individual variation in behavior. My areas of focus include cooperation, aggression, and reproduction. I select the system that is appropriate for my research questions and as a result I have worked with a variety of different organisms, including marine mammals, fish, birds, and rodents. I am always excited to learn and investigate interesting questions in a new system.

Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diverse perspectives improve the quality and impact of science and society. I am committed to increasing the sociocultural and racial diversity in biology and to providing an inclusive environment, in which everyone has equal opportunity to learn and conduct research regardless of background, race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or ability.


I support equality in STEM fields.

News and Announcements

April 2021

I am thrilled to announce that I will be starting as Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University this fall! I look forward to starting my lab and teaching!

April 2021

It has been a busy year! Excited to announce three new publications from my post-doc work, dissertation, and collaborations! Check them out here or email me for pdf copy:

The call of the wild: Using non-model systems to investigate microbiome–behaviour relationships.

Jessica A. Cusick, Cara L. Wellman, Gregory E. Demas. 2021 Invited Review to Journal of Experimental Biology.

Breeder aggression does not predict current or future cooperative group formation in a cooperatively breeding bird.

Jessica A. Cusick, Emily H. DuVal, and James A. Cox. Ethology 2021.

Mercury offloading in gametes and potential adverse effects of high mercury concentrations in blood and tissues of Atlantic Goliath Grouper Epinephelus itajara in the southeastern United States

Christopher R.Malinowski, Nicole I.Stacy, Felicia C.Coleman, Jessica A.Cusick, Carle M.Dugan, Christopher C.Koenig, Natassjia K.Ragbeer, Justin R.Perraultde, Science of the Total Environment 2021

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March 2021

Thrilled to have two undergraduate students present posters at Indiana University Bloomington's Animal Behavior Virtual Conference! Kate presented her undergraduate research from her independent study investigating consistency in behavior across time. Luke presented his undergraduate work investigating the interactive effects of photoperiod, stress, and gut microbiome manipulations on adult behavior.

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January 2021

It was a pleasure speaking about my research and careers in academia with the students of the Biology Seminar at CSULB.

November 2020

Another experiment complete! Congratulations Luke for completing your first independent undergraduate experiment.

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October 2020

It was such an honor to be invited to give a *virtual* talk for the Hastings Plenary Lectureship Series. I had a great time and got great questions! The best part of this invite was that it came from my previous undergraduate student Cesar Estien. It is so exciting to see all that he has accomplished!

July 2020

What a summer! I was thrilled to co-organize the Animal Behavior Society's first virtual meeting! It was a huge success! I was so excited to present my most recent postdoctoral research. In addition, Kate presented her undergraduate research from her independent study investigating consistency in behavior across time. 

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April 2020

A successful Twitter takeover! I took over the Animal Behavior Society's Twitter for the day. I posted about my research, outreach and more! Gained some new followers and 23,000 views of the work! Follow me on Twitter and see some of the tweets below:

February 2020

A successful outreach event at our local elementary school's STEAM night. We taught kids about different forms of maternal care, including how mother hamsters will retrieve their pups if they escape from the nest. Kids raced to see how many "escaped" baby hamsters they could bring back to the nest!

February 2020

Finished my first experiment as a postdoctoral researcher at IU. This 5 month long study investigated how the maternal neuroendocrine-microbiome environment shapes offspring development.

August 2019

I am thrilled to join Indiana University as a NIH-Funded Common Themes in Reproductive Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow in the Greg Demas and Cara Wellman labs. This postdoctoral position supports my work investigating how maternal neuroendocrine-microbiome environment shapes offspring development and behavior in the Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus).

July 2019

I had so much fun participating in the Allee Competition at the 2019 Behaviour Meeting in Chicago! Incredible science and incredible colleagues.

May 2019

Graduated from Florida State University with my PhD! Such an amazing experience and lots of hard work!

April 2019

Successfully defended my dissertation! I have spent so many years investigating the proximate mechanisms of individual variation in cooperation and have found some really interesting results. Stay tuned and keep an eye out for publications this summer!

Photo Credit: Tara Tanaka

March 2019

So excited to announce our newest publication "Manipulated sex ratios alter group structure and cooperation in the brown-headed nuthatch" published in Behavioral Ecology. We experimentally induced changes to the occurrence of cooperative breeding behavior in a wild bird by cross-fostering chicks, which altered the adult sex ratio in the population! Very excited about this work!

Check out the popular press summary of the work here

September 2018

Check out our newest publication! "Murder Mystery at the Nest of a Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) in the Florida Field Naturalist!


Photo Credit: Tara Tanaka


August 2018

I had a great time presenting at the Animal Behavior Society and the International Society for Behavioral Ecology conferences this summer. A lot of great science is happening!

April 2018

I am so excited and honored to receive an American Association of University Women (AAUW) dissertation fellowship! With this fellowship I will be able to focus on writing my dissertation and publishing in my final year!

March 2018

I presented my Three Minute Thesis (3MT) talk at Westminster Oaks and was able to meet and chat with some incredible people about the research at Florida State University.

March 2018

The first chapter of my dissertation has been published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology! Check it out: How do helpers help? Helper contributions throughout the nesting cycle in the cooperatively breeding brown-headed nuthatch

January 2018

Welcoming Cesar and Stasia to the BHNU team. Cesar and Stasia are undergraduate students at Florida State University. They will be scoring video of brown-headed nuthatch chick fledging behavior. My dissertation research investigates how variation in behavior and physiology as chicks leads to variation in cooperative behavior in adulthood.

Check out all the amazing People who have helped and contributed to the research 

November 2017

Came in 2nd place at Florida State University's Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition. What an incredible experience! It's not easy to summarize six years of research into three minutes and only one slide!