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Multimodal sensory processing in a songbird

Project Full Title:

Assessing auditory and visual processing with evoked potentials in the house sparrow, passer domesticus.

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Project Description:

This interdisciplinary project will incorporate the disciplines of Biology, Neuroscience, and Psychology. However the project is specifically housed within the Hope College Department of Biology. Anthropogenic disturbances have long changed the dynamics of our ecosystems and habitats. Alongside this change in the physical environment comes alterations of both the environmental light and sound profiles. New research has shed light on the strategies that animals use to signal in environments that are dominated by sound and light pollution. For example, there is repeated evidence to suggest that birds in urban areas sing at higher-frequencies to avoid masking by lower-frequency traffic noise. Less is known, however, about whether signal receivers differ in their visual and auditory physiology as a result of noise and sound pollution. As communication involves both the successful production of signals as well as the successful reception of these signals, it is imperative that we examine receiver sensory processing as a function of anthropogenic disturbance. This project will examine both the visual and auditory sensory processing of the song bird the house sparrow (passer domesticus). House sparrows frequently occupy a variety of human dominated environments and therefore span the gradient of noise and light pollution areas. We would predict that house sparrows captured in areas with greater human disturbance might show better high frequency hearing than animals captured in more rural areas; additionally, we might also expect that visual temporal resolution (e.g., the ability to of detect motion) will differ between the two populations. Studies examining the effects of human disturbance on receiver sensory processing are vitally important to developing efficient and effective conservation efforts. Students involved in this project will be involved in both field and lab techniques including auditory and visual recordings in the field, animal handling and capture, and physiological experiments (auditory and visual evoked potential recordings) in the lab.

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