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Jessica A. Cusick, PhD

Assistant Professor

Utah Valley University


Research Interests:

- Cooperation and Conflict

- Individual Variation and Personality

- Stress Physiology

- Host Microbiome Relationships

- Interspecific Interactions

- Breeding and Mating Tactics

- Communication

- Conservation

In the Cusick lab, our 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, we aim to understand how genetic, physiological, and environmental cues interact to influence individual variation in behavior. Areas of focus include cooperation, aggression, and reproduction. We select the systems that are appropriate for our research questions and as a result have worked with a variety of different organisms, including marine mammals, fish, birds, rodents, and invertebrates. We are always excited to learn and investigate interesting questions in a new system.

Meet the lab to check out all the incredible work by the folks in the lab and our recent publications!


Prospective Students: Email me if you are interested in learning about opportunities in the lab.

Jessica Cusick on Twitter

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

Photo Credit: Tara Tanaka

Spring 2024

So many updates! Congratulations to Christina and Spencer for receiving funding for their research projects

Christina and I traveled to the Charleston Harbor in SC for a successful week in the field with our collaborators Meghan Galipeau, M.S. (South Carolina Aquarium) and Dr Patricia Fair (South Carolina Aquarium and Medical University of South Carolina). We spent five days systematically documenting the dolphins’ novel “shipside feeding behavior.” Shipside feeding, which is a form of “barrier feeding,” occurs when dolphins chase fish towards shipping container, trapping them along the side of the ship, which appears to make them easier to catch them. By filming this behavior and documenting which individuals perform this behaviors we hope to determine how they catch the fish and how individuals in the population learn this behavior. A few picture of us in the field and what the dolphins are catching! All photos/videos taken with permission from permit NMFS LOC 22856

Congrats to Kanon for presenting his work at 2024 UCUR: "Religion, Evolution and Vaccinations: Perceptions from a GE Student Population"

Welcome to the Lab Lainey Smith! Excited to have your help with the Dolphin Work!

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Fall 2023

Welcome to the lab: Naghieli Gomez, Christina Deaver, Macy Reed, and Kanon Black





Summer 2023

Lot's happened in the Cusick lab this summer! Congrats to Chloe Loveland, Alissa Hewitt and Tessa Black who all presented their work at the Animal Behavior Society Conference. Lia Rabellino presented her Honor's Capstone Project at the ALAN Conference (pic to come)


Fieldwork was also a huge success, despite some crazy weather brought on by a west coast hurricane! Way to go team!


Spring 2023

Already have a few conferences under our belt! Chloe presented at the Second Global Twitter conference and Jon presented at UCUR! Way to go!

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August 2022

Lots of excitement this summer and fieldwork is underway! Chloe Loveland, NSF S-STEM student has been hard at work in the field collecting data for her independent project! Tessa Black and I are looking for additional field sites in Utah! Stay tuned!


December 2022-Summer 2023

Lia has started some fantastic researching monitoring light pollution around the Great Salt Lake. A wonderful collaboration with Audubon Society in SLC! Lia will be presenting this work at the ALAN Conference this summer!


April 2022

Congratulations to Kate Adaniya for receiving the prestigious Indiana University Executive Dean’s Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity for her research project assessing consistency in social behavior during pubertal transitions. You can check out her first-author publication in JEZ-A here:


May 2022

Lots of excitement this summer! Congratulations to our recent graduates: Kadin Crosby and Caitlin Shirts. Chloe Loveland is about to start some exciting fieldwork this summer. And we welcome our newest lab member Tessa Black! Check back for more exciting updates over the summer!

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January 2022

New publications alert!

So excited to announce a major study from my postdoctoral research at Indiana University is published in Hormones and Behavior!

Cusick, J.A., Wellman, C.L., Demas, G.E. 2022. Maternal stress and the maternal microbiome have sex-specific effects on offspring development and aggressive behavior in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Hormones and Behavior. 141, 105146.

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And an incredible international collaboration, our recent publication in Animal Behaviour details the first ever Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference (check back for link in May).

Raby, C.L. (co-lead), Cusick, J.A. (co-lead), Fürtbauer, I., Graham, K. E., Habig, B., Hauber, M.E., Madden, J. R., Strauss, A., Fernández-Juricic, E. Accepted 2021. An inclusive venue to discuss behavioural biology research: the first global Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference. Animal Behaviour.

April 2022

Congratulations to Luke Gohmann for an excellent poster presentation at the annual CISAB Animal Behavior Conference at Indiana University. Luke did a fantastic job presenting his independent work investigating the effect of maternal stress and maternal microbiome manipulations on offspring neural develompent.


Fall 2021

 A lot has happened in the Cusick lab since arriving in Utah! We welcomed three new students to the lab:

Chloe Loveland, a NSF S-STEM student,

Caitlin Shirts, and

Kadin Crosby (BIOL 1010 TA).

Check out their projects in the Meet the Lab tab

August 2021

                                  The Cusick lab has arrived in Utah! I am so excited to start as Assistant Professor at

                                   Utah Valley University! I am looking forward to teaching and building my research lab!

                                   Stay tuned for more exciting updates!


                                    And what an exciting welcome to Utah! My first moose sighting right here in Park City!

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Congratulations Luke! Luke spent the summer as an REU researcher at the University of Nebraska! He won Best Poster Presentation for the Systems Biology of Plant and Microbiome REU Program and placed in the top 5 poster presentations for all summer research programs across the university, which consisted of approximately 100 presenters! Way to go!

Summer 2021

Lots of exciting things happened this summer. Check it all out below!










                                  Congratulations to Kate Adaniya for publishing her first first-author paper from her

                                    undergraduate work. Kate investigated individual consistency in social and escape 

                                    behaviors across developmental stages using Siberian hamsters.

                                    Check out the paper here:

                                    Adaniya, C. H.,  Wellman, C. L.,  Demas, G. E., &  Cusick, J. A. (2021).  The

                                    ontogeny of personality: Repeatability of social and escape behaviors across

                                    developmental stages in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). J. Exp. Zool,  335,  

                                    1– 8.





                                 It was wonderful being a part of the ABS 2021 Virtual Meeting this year! As a

                                   member of the ABS Diversity Committee, we planned a incredible workshop: Becoming

                                   a J.E.D.I. Mentor, which was a huge success. It was also wonderful to present work from

                                   my NIH CTRD Postdoc at Indiana University. Thanks to everyone for a great conference!

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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!

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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!

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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!


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!

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