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The Suthers Laboratory

Research in the Lab

We are interested in the neural basis of behavior, particularly the neuroethology of acoustic communication. The research in our lab is primarily focused on the physiology of song production in songbirds and parrots. These two groups of birds have very different vocal organs and vocalabilities yet, together with humans, they are almost unique among animals in having a complex vocal communication in which learning plays an important role. By understanding how these vocalizations are produced and their role in communication, we hope to gain an insight into the significance of song diversity, its cost and benefit to the bird and the motor constraints which may limit the acoustic or temporal complexity of song. The exceptional vocal abilities of these birds enable us to investigate a number of basic problems related to the development and neural control of behavior. Some of these issues which are currently being studied in the lab include: the development and coordination of the diverse motor patterns during vocal learning; the role of vocal practice, analogous to human infant babbling,and of critical developmental periods in song learning; the relationship between the production, perception and the behavioral significance of various song elements; the significance of functional neural lateralization in the control of behavior. A long-term goal of our research on avian vocal communication is to bridge the gap between its underlying neural mechanisms and its behavioral ecology