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This Week’s Discoveries | 12 April 2016

12 April 2016
This Week's Discoveries


Title: ‘Seeing voices’: the role of multimodal cues in vocal learning
Speaker: Katharina Riebel (IBL, animal science and health)

Katharina investigates causes and consequences of condition and learning dependent phenotypic variation in sexually selected traits and preference. Her current research interests focuss on improving our understanding of developmental processes that contribute to variation in female mating preferences within populations of songbirds, namely sensory learning and state dependency of choice. She is the leading PI of the research proposal ‘Seeing voices’: the role of multimodal cues in vocal learning that received a Human Frontier Science Program grant last month.

Multimodal communication is ubiquitous in biology: plants lure pollinators with colour and fragrance, animals court with visual displays and sounds, and humans talk and gesture. Multimodal communication requires intersensory integration. Songbirds, and zebra finches in particular, are the prevalent animal model for molecular, neural and developmental aspects of human speech. Human and songbird brains exhibit comparable functional brain circuits for vocal learning and findings in either system often can inform research in the other. To investigate whether multimodal perception aids vocal learning and how multimodal information is processed and integrated by the brain during development, our team will use the Human Frontier Science Program award to develop a robot that can teach young birds to sing and that will allow us to manipulate the learning program modalities independently of each other.