contina USGS Eastern Ecological Science Center at the Patuxent Research Refuge | Center for Earth Observation and Modeling at the Univ. of Oklahoma

I am interested in movement ecology, evolution, and wildlife conservation, as well as STEM education and outreach. 2019-2021: Postdoctoral Fellow – University of Colorado Denver [NSF-ORIGIN]. 2016-2018: Postdoc Teaching Fellow – National Science Foundation (NSF) National Research Traineeship (NRT) program at the University of Oklahoma (OU)

My academic training focuses on avian research, animal movements, and molecular ecology (stable isotopes and genetic markers). Overall, my professional career includes 20yrs of research in ecology and conservation biology in the US, Central America, Europe, and Africa. Click here to read more about my research projects and here for more info about STEM education and past work at OU.


Read more about my research tools: How do we study the ecology and evolution of animal migration?



“You are what you eat”. Organisms are made of the food resources they consume and different stable isotope signatures of common elements such as carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen are progressively incorporated in growing tissues – providing information on different environments and diets. I use stable isotopes to track animal movements through different environments and to reconstruct foraging preferences.



Genetic markers (DNA) can provide an effective tool for the quantitative analysis of migratory connectivity and population genetic structure. I use microsatellites and SNPs for genetic population analyses of migratory birds. I am also conducting a genome-wide association analysis to detected signals of selection in several genes of interest in relation to the migratory phenotype of the Painted Bunting.



It is not an easy task to track movements in small (≤ 15 grams) migrant songbirds! Although satellite tracking systems and GPS devices are now greatly reduced in weight, they are still too heavy for many species of small songbirds. I use miniaturized solar powered geolocator tags that, although less precise than GPS technology, can be fitted on small songbirds. I analyze geolocator data in conjunction with stable isotope and genetic data to study species evolution and population responses to climate change.



After data collection and analysis… we still need to organize our new knowledge under an integrated ecological framework. My goal is to provide a way to methodically integrate ecological and evolutionary biology information through modern bioinformatics and R coding language.


Published Research


Methods in Ecology and Evolution (2021)
Magozzi, S., Bataille, C.P., Hobson, K.A., Wunder, M.B., Howa, J.D., Contina, A., Vander Zanden, H.B. and Bowen, G.J.
Calibration chain transformation improves the comparability of organic hydrogen and oxygen stable isotope data.


Ecological Modeling (2020)

Contina, A., Yanco, S.W., Pierce, A.K., DePrenger-Levin, M., Wunder, M.B., Neophytou, A.M., Lostroh, C.P., Telford, R.J., Benito, B.M., Chipperfield, J. and O’Hara, R.B., 2020. Comment on “A global-scale ecological niche model to predict SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection rate”, author Coro. Ecological Modelling, 436, p.109288.
Comment on “A global-scale ecological niche model to predict SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection rate”, author Coro

Ecology and Evolution (2018)

Curry CM, Ross JD, Contina AJ, Bridge ES. (2018)

Varying dataset resolution alters predictive accuracy of spatially explicit ensemble models for avian species distribution. Ecol Evol. 2018;00:1–12.


IBIS (2018)

Contina A, Alcantara JL, Bridge ES, Ross JD, Oakley WF, Kelly JF, Ruegg KC (2018)

Genetic structure of the Painted Bunting and its implications for conservation of migratory populations.


PLOS ONE (2018)

Contina A, Bridge ES, Ross JD, Shipley JR, Kelly JF (2018)

Examination of Clock and Adcyap1 gene variation in a neotropical migratory passerine. PLoS ONE 13(1): e0190859.


Movement Ecology (2018)

Zenzal TJ, Contina AJ, Kelly, JF, Moore FR. 2018.

Temporal migration patterns between a Gulf Coast stopover site and natal locations of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). Movement Ecology 6:2 DOI 10.1186/s40462-017-0120-2


Conservation Genetics Resources (2017)

Contina A, Bay R, Underwood VL, Smith TB, Bridge ES, Kelly JF, Ruegg KC. 2017.

Characterization of SNPs markers for the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) and their relevance in population differentiation and genome evolution studies. Conservation Genetics Resources. doi: 10.1007/s12686-017-0950-7


Integrative Zoology (2016)

Contina A, Bridge ES, Kelly JF. 2016.

Exploring novel candidate genes from the Mouse Genome Informatics Database: potential implications for avian migration research. Integrative Zoology DOI: 10.1111/1749-4877.12199


Conservation Genetics Resources (2016)

Contina A, Harrigan RJ, Pollinger JP, Bridge ES, Kelly JF, Smith TB. 2016.

Genome-wide identification and characterization of simple sequence repeats in the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) for population and forensic analyses. Conservation Genetics Resources DOI 10.1007/s12686-016-0522-2


Behavioral Ecology (2015)

Bridge ES, Ross JD, Contina AJ, Kelly JF. 2015.

Do molt-migrant songbirds optimize migration routes based on primary productivity? Behavioral Ecology, Volume 27, Issue 3, 1 January 2016, Pages 784–792.


Journal of Field Ornithology (2013)

Bridge ES, Kelly JF, Contina A, Gabrielson RM, MacCurdy RB, and Winkler DW. 2013.

Advances in tracking small migratory birds: a technical review of light-level geolocation. Journal of Field Ornithology 84(2):121-137. DOI.10.1111/jofo.12011


The Auk: Ornithological Advances (2013)

Contina A, Bridge ES, Seavy NE, Duckles JM, and Kelly JF. 2013.

Using geologgers to investigate bimodal isotope patterns in Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris). The Auk: Ornithological Advances 130(2): 265-272. DOI: 10.1525/auk.2013.13003


The Auk: Ornithological Advances (2013)

Shipley JR, Contina A, Batbayar N, Bridge ES, Peterson AT, and Kelly JF. 2013.

Niche conservatism and disjunct populations: a case study with Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris). The Auk: Ornithological Advances 130:476-486. Featured on the journal cover.


Canadian Journal of Zoology (2011)

Bridge ES, Fudickar A, Kelly JF, Contina A, and Rohwer S. 2011.

Divergent stable isotope signatures in the feathers of a population molt-migrant songbirds. Canadian Journal of Zoology 89:951-959.



The Condor: Ornithological Applications (2012)

Contina A. 2012.

The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. The Condor: Ornithological Applications Vol.114, 4-874-875. doi/full/10.1525/cond.2012.114.4.874


Springer (2018)

Aeroecology. 2018. Chapter 11: Bridge ES, Ross JD, Contina AJ, Kelly JF.

Using Agent Based Models to Scale from Individuals to Populations.




BirdWatching (2013)

BirdWatching. Dec. 2013 “Why the Painted Bunting has two separate breeding populations”.

Article featuring the paper “Niche conservatism and disjunct populations: a case study with Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris) published a few months earlier in the Auk: Ornithological Advances