Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior - NPB

Undergraduate Advising:
EXB 530.752.2292
NPB 530.752.9696

Main Phone: 530.752.0203
Main Fax: 530.752.5582

Mailing Address:
Dept. of NPB
UC Davis
1 Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616



1131 Life Sciences (LS)
ganevitt (at) ucdavis (dot) edu

.S., Biological Sciences, Stanford University, 1983
Ph.D., Zoology, University of Washington, 1990

Teaching Interests:
Animal behavior; sensory biology.

Research Interests: Sensory Ecology

Projects: Foraging and navigation using biogeochemical regulators of climate change, Bird Olfaction, Phenotypic plasticity and conservation

gabyMy specialty is olfaction - the sense of smell - and much of my research has focused on exploring how marine birds and fishes use smell in the natural environment. I have worked in areas ranging from olfactory homing in salmon, to olfactory foraging, navigation and individual recognition in birds, and in particular, petrels and albatrosses. Because our world is experiencing rapid, anthropogenic change, our work increasingly interfaces with problems associated with global climate, habitat loss or degradation and by-catch concerns in marine fisheries. Many of the species we study are currently threatened or endangered. In line with this concern, we also conduct research on the proximate and evolutionary factors contributing to phenotypic plasticity, and this work has been carried out primarily with model fish species (various species of desert pupfish and salmon).

Current and ongoing projects: 1). Foraging and navigation using biogeochemical regulators of climate change. How do marine birds and fishes forage and navigate over the seemingly featureless landscape of the open ocean? My lab has pioneered research showing that biogeochemical regulators of climate also serve as signal molecules in marine habitat. Instead of a featureless landscape, I have suggested that seabirds use changes in the olfactory landscape to recognize potentially productive foraging opportunities as they fly over them (Nevitt et al., 1995, Nature). This odor landscape reflects bathymetric features, which tend to accumulate phytoplankton and therefore prey, and we speculate that birds build up a map of these features over time (Nevitt, 2000). I proposed this theory when I discovered that dimethyl sulfide (DMS), and its precursor dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), can be detected by wide-ranging procellariiform seabirds (Nevitt et al. 1995). This work has been extended by our lab and others to include harbor seals, penguins, whale sharks and coral reef fishes (DeBose et al. 2008).

diverDMS is a byproduct of the metabolic decomposition of DMSP in marine phytoplankton (notably Phaeocystis in the Southern ocean) and other marine algae (including zooxanthalae in coral reefs) (Nevitt, 2000). DMS is frequently associated with oceanic features where phytoplankton are plentiful, including upwelling zones, seamounts and shelf breaks. These are areas where seabirds and other marine predators tend to aggregate and forage (Nevitt and Bonadonna, 2005b; Nevitt et al., 1995). DMSP tends to be released when phytoplankton cells are crushed and it is then rapidly converted to DMS via processes within the marine microbial food web. DMS emissions increase when phytoplankton are grazed by zooplankton, suggesting that local elevations in DMS may opportunistically alert higher order predators (including birds) to rapidly accumulating aggregations of zooplankton (e.g. krill) and zooplankton predators (fish and squid).

schoolDMS is involved in climate regulation through the production of cloud condensation nuclei. Biogenic marine DMS is a major contributor to geochemical sulfur cycling. Thus, considerable effort has been directed towards understanding and monitoring its production and distribution in the marine environment, extending from local (prey patch size) to global spatial scales. It is arguably unprecedented to have such detailed information on the production and distribution of a biogenic signal molecule, and these data have provided important insights into how seabirds and other marine organisms might use scented compounds in foraging and navigation at both local and global spatial scales. See Nevitt 2008 for a recent review of this topic. (Top: testing whether coral reef fishes can detect DMSP in Curacao (Debose et al. 2008, Science).

birds2). Olfactory behaviors in birds. While most of my work has focused on the procellariiforms, I am broadly interested in the sense of smell in birds. Birds use chemical cues for a variety of behaviors, but olfaction and taste are largely ignored in behaviors from foraging to communication and sexual selection. We were among the first groups to show odor-mediated individual recognition in birds. Long-lived Antarctic prions recognize the odor of their mates (Bonadonna and Nevitt 2004, Science) and leach’s storm-petrel chicks can recognize the individual odor signature of their nest (O’Dwyer et al. 2008). In collaboration with Henri Weimerskirch of CNRS / France, we were the
first to apply high-resolution tracking to investigate the sensory basis for foraging in albatrosses. Our work shows that wandering albatross hunt by smell and can detect prey from kilometers away. (Nevitt et al. 2008, PNAS, Cover story).

fish3). Phenotypic plasticity in endangered fishes. Threatened and endangered fish species are often removed from natural environments to be reared and bred in captivity until habitat can be restored. While most conservationists tend to be concerned about preserving genetic structure, it is common for fishes to adjust to artificial rearing by changing their behavior and even their morphology. Research from our lab showed that salmon reared in hatcheries have smaller brains by a variety of measures than genetically similar individuals reared in the
wild (Marchetti and Nevitt 2003). Further work suggested that dramatic shifts in brain growth occur rapidly n captivity (Kihslinger et al. 2006). We went on to show that simple, inexpensive measures, like adding cobble to the bottom of the early rearing environment, leads to salmon with bigger brains (Kihslinger and Nevitt 2006). Using desert pupfish as a model system, we have also shown that changes in environmental factors affecting growth and thyroid hormone function leads to extreme morphological differences in juvenile pupfish. These findings illustrate the need to incorporate a mechanistic understanding of phenotypic plasticity into conservation strategies to preserve imperiled fishes (Lema and Nevitt 2006; Lema 2008, American Scientist, Cover story).

Selected Publications:
De Bose, J. L. & Nevitt, G. A. (2008). The use of odors at different spatial scales: Comparing birds with fish. Journal of Chemical Ecology 34(7), 867-81.

Nevitt, G.A. (2008). Sensory ecology on the high seas: The odor world of the procellariiform seabirds. Journal of Experimental Biology, 211, 1706-1713.

Debose, J.L., Lema, S.C., & Nevitt, G.A. (2008). Dimethylsulfionoproprianate as a foraging cue for reef fishes. Science, 319, 1356.

Nevitt, G.A., Losekoot, M. & Weimerskirch, H. (2008). Evidence for olfactory search in Wandering albatross Diomedea exulans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(12), 4576-81. (Cover article)

O’Dwyer, T. W., Ackerman, A.L., & Nevitt, G.A. (2008). Examining the development of individual recognition in a procellariiform seabird, the Leach’s storm-petrel. Journal of Experimental Biology, 211, 37-340.

VanBuskirk, R. & Nevitt, G.A. (2008). The influence of developmental environment on the evolution of olfactory foraging behavior in procellariiform seabirds. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 21(1), 67-76.

VanBuskirk, R. & Nevitt, G.A. (2007). Evolutionary arguments for olfactory behavior in modern birds. ChemoSense, 10(1), 2-6.

Debose, J.L. & Nevitt, G.A.  (2007). Investigating the association between pelagic fish and DMSP in a natural coral reef system. Marine and Freshwater Research, 58(8) 720–724.

Lema, S. C. & Nevitt, G.A. (2006). Testing an ecophysiological mechanism of morphological plasticity in pupfish and its relevance to conservation efforts for endangered Devils Hole pupfish. Journal of Experimental Biology, 209, 3499-3509.

Kihlsinger, R.K., Lema, S.C. & Nevitt, G.A. (2006) Environmental rearing conditions produce differences in the relative brain size of wild Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A, 145 (2): 145-51.

Cunningham, G.B., VanBuskirk, R., Hodges, M.J. Weimerskirch, H. & Nevitt, G.A. (2006) Behavioural responses of blue petrel chicks Halobaena caerulea to a food-related and novel odour in a simple wind tunnel. Antarctic Science, 18, 345-352.

Nevitt, G. A., Begstrom, D. & Bonadonna, F. (2006) The potential role of ammonia as signal molecule for procellariiform seabirds. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 315, 271-277.

 Kihlsinger, R.K. & Nevitt, G. A. (2006) Early rearing environment impacts cerebellar growth in juvenile salmon. Journal of Experimental Biology, 209, 504-509.

Bonadonna, F, Caro, S. Jouventin, P. & Nevitt, G.A. (2006) Evidence that blue petrel, Halobaena caerulea,  fledglings can detect and orient to dimethyl sulphide, Journal of Experimental Biology, 209, 2165-2169.

Nevitt, G. A., & Bonadonna, F. (2005) Sensitivity to dimethyl sulphide suggests a mechanism for olfactory navigation by seabirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology Letters 1 (3), 303-305.

Lema, S. C., Hodges, M. J., Marchetti, M. P. & Nevitt, G. A. (2005) Proliferation zones in the salmon telencephalon and evidence for environmental influence on proliferation rate. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A, 141, 327-335.

Blackmer, A. L., Mauck, R. A., Ackerman, J. T., Huntington, C. E., Nevitt, G. A. & Williams, J. (2005) Exploring individual quality: basal metabolic rate and reproductive performance in Leach's storm-petrels. Behavioural Ecology, 16, 906 - 913.

Nevitt, G. A. & Bonadonna, F. (2005) Seeing the world through the nose of a bird: new developments in the sensory ecology of procellariiform seabirds. Marine Ecology Progress Series 287, 292-295.

Bonadonna, F. & Nevitt, G. A. (2004) Partner-specific odor recognition in an Antarctic seabird. Science 306, 835-835.

Silverman, E. D., Veit, R. R. & Nevitt, G. A. (2004) Nearest neighbors as foraging cues: information transfer in a patchy environment. Marine Ecology Progress Series 277, 25-35.

Nevitt, G. A., Reid, K. & Trathan, P. (2004) Testing olfactory foraging strategies in an Antarctic seabird assemblage. Journal of Experimental Biology 207, 3537-3544.

Lema, S. C. & Nevitt, G. A. (2004) Variation in vasotocin immunoreactivity in the brain of recently isolated populations of a death valley pupfish, Cyprinodon nevadensis. General and Comparative Endocrinology 135(3), 300-309.

Lema, S. C. & Nevitt, G. A. (2004) Evidence that thyroid hormone induces olfactory cellular proliferation in salmon during a sensitive period for imprinting. Journal of Experimental Biology 207, 3317-3327.

Lema, S. C. & Nevitt, G. A. (2004) Exogenous vasotocin alters aggression during agonistic exchanges in male Amargosa River pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis amargosae). Hormones and Behavior 46, 628-637.

Blackmer, A. L., Ackerman, J. T. & Nevitt, G. A. (2004) Effects of investigator disturbance on hatching success and nest-site fidelity in a long-lived seabird, Leach's storm petrel. Biological Conservation 116, 141-148.

Nevitt, G. A. & Haberman, K. L. (2003) Behavioral attraction of Leach's storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) to dimethyl sulfide. Journal of Experimental Biology 206, 1497-1501.

Marchetti, M. P. & Nevitt, G. A. (2003) Effects of hatchery rearing on brain structures of rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss. Environmental Biology of Fishes 66, 9-14.

Cunningham, G. B., Van Buskirk, R. W., Bonadonna, F., Weimerskirch, H. & Nevitt, G. A. (2003) A comparison of the olfactory abilities of three species of procellariiform chicks. Journal of Experimental Biology 206, 1615-1620.

Bonadonna, F., Cunningham, G. B., Jouventin, P., Hesters, F. & Nevitt, G. A. (2003) Evidence for nest-odour recognition in two species of diving petrel. Journal of Experimental Biology 206, 3719-3722.

Haberman, K. L., Ross, R. M., Quetin, L. B., Vernet, M., Nevitt, G. A. & Kozlowski, W. (2002) Grazing by Antarctic krill Euphausia superba on Phaeocystis antarctica: an immunochemical approach. Marine Ecology Progress Series 241, 139-149.

Lema, S. C. & Nevitt, G. A. (2001) Re-evaluating NADPH-diaphorase histochemistry as an indicator of nitric oxide synthase: an examination of the olfactory system of coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). Neuroscience Letters 313, 1-4.

Nevitt, G. A. (2000) Olfactory foraging by Antarctic procellariiform seabirds: Life at high Reynolds numbers. Biological Bulletin 198, 245-253.

Nevitt, G. A., Pentcheff, N. D., Lohmann, K. J. & Zimmer, R. K. (2000) Den selection by the spiny lobster Panulirus argus: testing attraction to conspecific odors in the field. Marine Ecology Progress Series 203, 225-231.

Nevitt, G. A. (1999) Foraging by seabirds on an olfactory landscape. American Scientist 87, 46-53.

Nevitt, G. A. (1999) Olfactory foraging in Antarctic seabirds: a species-specific attraction to krill odors. Marine Ecology Progress Series 177, 235-241.

Reid, K. & Nevitt, G. A. (1998) Observation of southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina, feeding at sea near South Georgia. Marine Mammal Science 14, 637-640.

Dittman, A. H., Quinn, T. P., Nevitt, G. A., Hacker, B. & Storm, D. R. (1997) Sensitization of olfactory guanylyl cyclase to a specific imprinted odorant in coho salmon. Neuron 19, 381-389.

Dittman, A. H., Quinn, T. P. & Nevitt, G. A. (1996) Timing of imprinting to natural and artificial odors by coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 53, 434-442.

Nevitt, G. A., Grober, M., Marcheterre, M. & Bass, A. (1995) A re-evaluation of the structure and function of the terminal nerve in the peripheral olfactory system of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Brain Behavior and Evolution 45, 350-358.

Nevitt, G. A., Veit, R. R. & Kareiva, P. (1995) Dimethyl Sulphide as a Foraging Cue for Antarctic Procellariiform Seabirds. Nature 376, 680-682.

Nevitt, G. A., Pentcheff, N. D., Lohmann, K. J. & Zimmerfaust, R. K. (1995) Evidence for Hydrodynamic Orientation by Spiny Lobsters in a Patch Reef Environment. Journal of Experimental Biology 198, 2049-2054.

Lohmann, K. J., Pentcheff, N. D., Nevitt, G. A., Stetten, G. D., Zimmerfaust, R. K., Jarrard, H. E. & Boles, L. C. (1995) Magnetic Orientation of Spiny Lobsters in the Ocean - Experiments with Undersea Coil Systems. Journal of Experimental Biology 198, 2041-2048.

Silverman, E. & Nevitt, G. A. (1995). Evidence for network foraging by Antarctic seabirds.  Antarctic Journal of the United States 30(1), 186-187.

Nevitt, G. A. (1994). Evidence that Antarctic procellariiform seabirds can smell krill. Antarctic Journal of the United States 29(5), 168-169.

Nevitt, G. A., Dittman, A. H., Quinn, T. P. & Moody, W. J. (1994) Evidence for a Peripheral Olfactory Memory in Imprinted Salmon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 91, 4288-4292.

Nevitt, G. A. & Moody, W. J. (1992) An Electrophysiological Characterization of Ciliated Olfactory Receptor-Cells of the Coho Salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch. Journal of Experimental Biology 166, 1-17.

Nevitt, G. A. (1991) Do Fish Sniff ? A New Mechanism of Olfactory Sampling in Pleuronectid Flounders. Journal of Experimental Biology 157, 1-18.

woodsInterested in working with us?
If this line of work interests you, check out selected publications, posted above along with links to various colleagues’ websites.  I am always looking for excellent students and postdocs to join our research team. 

If you are a schoolteacher, we also are available for outreach activities.  Please contact me at ganevitt-at-ucdavis-dot-edu.

Photo credits: Terry O’Dwyer, Jenn Debose, Sean Lema, Gabrielle Nevitt
Animal Behavior Graduate Group

Avian Sciences Graduate Group

Ecology Graduate Group

Bodega Marine Laboratory

Sensory Ecology Links:
Vision in birds: Prof. Graham Martin
Visual Ecology in the ocean: Prof. Sonke Johnsen
Vision in dim light: Prof Eric Warrant
Insect color vision: Prof Almut Kelber
Cephalopods: Prof. Roger Hanlon
Weakly electric fish: Prof Harold Zakon
Magnetoreception: Prof Ken Lohmanm
Vomeronasal system / olfaction: Prof. Heather Eisthen
Aquatic Sensory Ecology: Prof. Paul Moore
Auditory worlds: Prof. Peter Narins
Hearing in frogs: Prof. Michael Ryan
Art and the brain

Questions or Comments? | Last Updated: February 11, 2013.
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