Neuroethology, endocrinology, and evolution of electrocommunication behavior in electric fish
- How does the nervous system control species-typical behavior?
- What mechanisms lead to differences in behavior between species, between sexes, and between individuals?
- How do hormones influence the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system to modify behavior?
- How have hormonal and neural mechanisms evolved to produce species diversity in behavior?
Our laboratory addresses these questions by studying the neuroendocrine control of sexually dimorphic communication behavior in weakly electric fish. The fish we study produce weak electrical signals from an electric organ in their tail, and they can use these signals to communicate the species identity, sex, reproductive status, and social rank of the signaler. The electrical discharges produced by the fish differ between different species of fish, between males and females, and between individual fish. Sex differences in electrical behavior are regulated by androgenic hormones such as 11-ketotestosterone and/or estrogenic hormones such as estradiol. The circuits in the brain and spinal cord that control these electrical signals are relatively simple and well-characterized. These features enable us to study the neural and hormonal mechanisms of species- and sex-specific electrical behavior from cellular to organismal levels. Furthermore, the diversity of signals produced by different electric fish species allows us to use comparative studies to investigate how behavior and the physiology of the nervous system have evolved.
The lab also maintains the Electric Fish Signal Archive, an extensive catalog of publicly downloadable recordings of South American ghost knifefishes.