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My research interests integrate neuroscience, endocrinology, and animal behavior. I focus on seasonal plasticity in the neuroendocrine mechanisms regulating complex social behavior, and seek to answer two fundamental questions:
I combine ethological, molecular, and biochemical techniques to address these questions in songbirds.
Songbirds in temperate latitudes experience profound seasonal changes in physiology and behavior. In the breeding season, circulating levels of gonadal hormones are elevated. This activates behaviors associated with reproduction including territory establishment/defense, courtship singing, and mating behavior. In the non-breeding season, circulating levels of gonadal hormones are undetectable. This inhibits reproduction in favor of behaviors associated overwinter survival.
Remarkably, in some species of songbird it is not uncommon for behaviors such as singing and territoriality to be observed in both the breeding and non-breeding seasons despite these marked differences in circulating hormone levels. However, the function of and underlying motivational state accompanying these behaviors differ context-dependently. My overarching hypothesis is that two interconnected circuits in the brain (the vertebrate “social behavior network” and avian “song control system”) regulate these behaviors context-dependently as well.