Mechanisms of Behavior

Demas Lab

The primary focus of our laboratory is in the general area of “ecological physiology.” Specifically, we study of the interactions among the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems and the behavior in a variety of ecologically relevant environmental contexts.

For example, many nontropical organisms experience pronounced fluctuations in environmental conditions (e.g., day length, ambient temperature, food availability, social interactions) across the seasons of the year. Consequently, individuals of a wide range of species have evolved specific adaptive mechanisms to cope with seasonal fluctuations in the environment. These adaptations may be physiological (e.g., changes in energy balance, reproductive function, or immunity) or behavioral (e.g., changes in foraging, migration, aggression, or social behavior). 

The broad goal of our research is to identity the environmental and social factors contributing to seasonal changes in specific physiological and behavioral responses and to determine the neural, endocrine, and immune mechanisms underlying these changes. Although this research focuses primarily on rodent species (e.g., Siberian hamsters, deer mice, voles), we also address these questions in amphibian and avian species.

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Hurley Lab

Sensory systems are gateways through which we receive information about the world around us. We may think that our senses indiscriminately respond to whatever happens in the environment, but sensory systems are very selective. Sensory organs themselves (and also the brain circuits that process sensory information) have an amazing ability to pick out the types of stimuli that are most important in a particular situation. Sensory neural circuits can even change the way that they process sensory cues in different behavioral states by responding to chemical signals that are released in the brain. The neuromodulator serotonin is one of these neurochemical signals.

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Ketterson Lab

Our research group consists of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who are all studying aspects of the biology of the dark-eyed junco, a songbird that is widely distributed across North America. The junco is a classic species in the study of seasonality, speciation, and mediation of phenotypic evolution by hormomes, and we have field populations under study in Virginia, South Dakota, and California and captive populations here in Indiana.

While unified by their study system, and their common interest in evolutionary biology and animal behavior, members of our group pursue research interests that are quite diverse. Examples include avian pheromones, immune function and differential migration, mechanisms of androgyny and the evolution of sexual dimorphism, song and speciation, the role of hormones in rapid evolution and phenotypic plasticity, seasonal differences in gene expression, the role of hormones in phenotypic integration, benefits of multiple mating by females, and neural correlates of female aggression.

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Kingsbury-Goodson Lab

Research in our lab is focused on the evolution and function of social behavior circuits in the basal ("limbic") forebrain and midbrain. We are particularly interested in understanding how limbic circuits that are strongly conserved nonetheless give rise to massive species diversity in behavioral phenotypes, such as flocking and territoriality in birds. Neuromodulators of the vasopressin-oxytocin family are key to this diversity, and thus much of our work addresses the dynamic roles that neuromodulators play in social behavior.

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Martins Lab

Our research is in the evolution of complex behavior. In particular, we are interested in the translation between processes acting on a generation time scale and the patterns seen across species. How do genetic, developmental, and evolutionary interactions among traits influence long-term change?

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Moczek Lab

Our research focuses on a central question in biology: how do major phenotypic novelties originate and diversify in nature? In particular we are interested in the ecological, developmental, and genetic mechanisms, and the interactions between them, that drive evolutionary innovation and diversification. To tackle these issues from a variety of perspectives and at different levels of biological organization, we use approaches ranging from molecular developmental biology and genomics to quantitative genetics, comparative endocrinology, and behavioral ecology.

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Rosvall Lab

Most behaviors are plastic traits, in that animals can modify their behavior to environmental conditions that shift over the course of minutes, hours, or seasonally. Many behaviors are nonetheless individually consistent, and behavior has long been hypothesized to be at the forefront of evolutionary change.

Research in the Rosvall Lab seeks to identify the genomic and physiological bases of behavioral adaptation and plasticity, and how these proximate mechanisms change over the course of evolutionary time. We approach these questions by combining conceptual and analytical tools from animal behavior, neuroendocrinology, evolutionary ecology, physiology, and genomics–primarily by studying free-living birds.

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Smith Lab

The Smith Laboratory studies the evolution and physiology of sexually dimorphic communication behavior in South American ghost knifefishes. Ghost knifefish have electric organs that produce weak electrical signals used to detect nearby objects and to communicate. These signals provide an excellent system to study the evolution and physiology of sexual dimorphic behavior for several reasons. Electric communication signals are highly diverse both within and across species, and the magnitude of sex differences in signals varies across species.
Sex differences in electric communication behavior are regulated by gonadal steroid hormones (11-ketotestosterone and estradiol).

Finally, the neural circuits that control electric communication behavior are well-characterized and remarkably simple, which allows us to understand how hormonal and evolutionary changes in the brain and spinal cord are related to sex and species differences in behavior. We comparatively study the relationship between hormones, brain, and behavior by using a wide range of techniques including recording and playing back electric communication signals, hormone measurement and manipulation, immunohistochemistry, gene cloning and sequencing, molecular phylogenetics, and electrophysiology.

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