Keynote Speakers

A novel aspect of the 2009 program will be inclusion of two Keynote sessions. These sessions will launch the daily scientific program on Friday 14 August and Saturday 15 August. During each session, three concurrent Keynote Lectures will be given.

Keynote Session 1, Friday 14 August

Erich D. Jarvis

Keynote title: “Evolution of brain systems for complex behavioral traits: song in birds and spoken language in humans”

Dr. Erich D. Jarvis is a Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University, and he is a Howard Hughes Investigator. He received his Ph.D. in Molecular Neurobiology & Animal Behavior, The Rockefeller University, in 1995. Dr. Jarvis' laboratory studies the neurobiology of vocal communication. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. He uses an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn their vocalizations. The generality of the discoveries is tested in other vocal learning orders, such as parrots and hummingbirds, as well as non-vocal learners, such as pigeons and non-human primates.

This Keynote Lecture is sponsored by Villanova University’s Cognitive Science Program.

Abstract: Darwins theory of evolution by natural selection heavily influenced many fields of science, including neuroscience. In this regard, an understanding of the evolution and mechanism of how the brain controls complex behavioral traits has been a mysterious question for generations. One such complex trait is vocal learning, a critical behavioral substrate for song in song learning birds and spoken language in humans. A common feature of species that have this trait (songbirds, parrots, hummingbirds, and humans) is that they have forebrain to brainstem systems for vocal control, whereas those that produce only innate sounds have only the brainstem vocal system. Using behavioral, molecular, electrophysiological, and anatomical approaches we have found that the song learning systems of distantly related birds are embedded within a motor system also present in vocal non-learning birds that is involved limb and body movements. The song learning and adjacent motor systems share many properties in common, including motor-driven gene expression cascades and connectivity into two sub-networks an anterior pathway that in songbirds is necessary for song learning and a posterior pathway that is necessary for song production. Comparative analyses suggest parallels with the spoken language brain system in humans. Based on these and other findings, we propose a motor theory for the origin of vocal learning, where unique brain systems used to learn and produce song and spoken language evolved out of a pre-existing vertebrate system that controls movement and motor learning, such as learning how to walk or fly. We propose that the pre-existing system is a fundamental design of the vertebrate brain, which consists of the two motor sub-pathways (anterior and posterior) that during embryonic development form parallels systems to control different muscle groups, and are innervated by sensory systems for feedback control of different motor behaviors. When vocal learning evolves, this pre-existing motor system is then connected to muscles of the vocal organ (syrinx in birds, larynx in humans) to control a specialized form of learned movement control - song and speech. In this manner, the evolution of brain pathways for vocal learning may have evolved independently of a common ancestor, but dependent on a pre-existing motor learning pathway used a scaffold. We suggest that this could be a possible mechanism for evolution of complex behavioral traits in birds and mammals beyond vocal learning.

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Bridget Stutchbury

Keynote title: “Carry-over effects in Neotropical migratory songbirds: reproductive effort, molt and migration”

Dr. Bridget Stutchbury is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Ecology and Conservation Biology at York University, Toronto. She completed her M.Sc. at Queen’s University and her Ph.D. at Yale, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. Since the 1980s, she has followed songbirds to their wintering grounds in Latin America and back to their breeding grounds in North America to understand their behavior, ecology, and conservation. She is author of the book Silence of the Songbirds.

Abstract: Neotropical migratory songbirds face critical tradeoffs between reproductive effort and preparing for fall migration, yet little is known about how reproductive decisions affect late season physiological condition, timing of moult, or arrival on winter territories. We have recently used light level geolocators to reconstruct the timing and routes of fall and spring migration in Wood Thrush to test the hypothesis that high reproductive effort has a subsequent cost of delaying moult and migration. We found a positive correlation between cumulative reproductive effort and levels of corticosterone in late season Wood Thrush. Double brooded pairs experienced a two week delay in the onset of moult, and feather isotope analysis strongly suggests that many Wood Thrush overlap migration and moult. Reconstruction of migration routes show that Wood Thrush have prolonged stopovers during fall migration that result in wide variation in arrival time on wintering territories.

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A. Marm Kilpatrick

Keynote title: “Birds, viruses, and anthropogenic change a Molotov cocktail in the making”

Dr. A. Marm Kilpatrick is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and was the recipient of the AOU's Young Investigator award in 2008. He received a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a B.A. in philosophy from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1995, a M.S. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1997, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2003. He spent the next 5 years as a research scientist at the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, a small non-profit organization in New York City, before joining the faculty at UCSC in 2008. His primary fields of interest are population and disease ecology and conservation. He has authored 40 peer-reviewed publications on a wide range of topics. His work links empirical studies with simple models to answer questions like: (1) which of the 300+ bird species shown to be infected with West Nile virus are important in amplifying the pathogen? (2) How will pathogens such as avian influenza and West Nile virus be spread to new regions? (3) How does anthropogenic environmental change alter the transmission of pathogens through changes in climate, host and vector communities?

Abstract: The introduction of West Nile virus to the Western hemisphere, and the global emergence of H5N1 avian influenza have drawn new focus to the interactions of pathogens and wild birds. My work has focused on how the ecology of West Nile virus transmission has both been shaped by avian community composition, and has in turn altered community composition through WNV mortality. I will describe patterns of interactions of mosquito vectors and avian hosts, how both communities are altered by urbanization of eastern forests, and the striking consequences for viral transmission. In addition, I will highlight how globalization of trade and travel has combined with avian migration in the dispersal, spread, and emergence of West Nile virus and avian influenza. Finally, I will describe how studies of the basic ecology of birds and their interactions with pathogens and vectors can lead to novel control strategies that provide unmatched public health benefits for zoonotic diseases.

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Keynote Session 2, Saturday 15 August

Trevor D. Price

Keynote title: "Ecological and geographical influences on bird speciation"

Dr. Trevor D. Price is a Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolution, University of Chicago. Dr. Price earned his B.Sc. from Cambridge University and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Dr. Price and his students study the causes and consequences of speciation in birds. They combine field research, mostly in India, with molecular lab work (e.g., phylogeny reconstruction) and some theoretical studies. Major questions include: What is the role of songs and plumage patterns in speciation? Why are there twice as many species breeding in the eastern Himalayas as the western Himalayas? What sets range limits of species? How do closely related parapatric species interact at their mutual range limit? Much of their ongoing research is on the genus Phylloscopus, or Old World Leaf Warblers, chosen because multiple coexisting species are extremely similar to each other. He is the author of Speciation in Birds.

Abstract: Sister species of birds can show striking ecological differences and occur sympatrically, but many are ecologically very similar and geographically separated (in allopatry or parapatry).  Geographically separated sister species are often old and differ predominantly in socially selected traits such as plumage and song; they may continue to hybridize where they meet in parapatric zones of narrow overlap.  This suggests speciation processes can be ordered along a continuum, where the time needed for speciation in allopatry is shortened, the greater the differences between the environments that the diverging populations occupy.  Using examples from islands and continents (including the Galpagos and the Himalayas), I consider how time in isolation and divergent selection pressures complement each other in promoting speciation.  I also argue that these processes do not set the ultimate limit on speciation rate, but rather that is attributed to the ease of range expansions.

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Gail Patricelli

Keynote title: "Sexual selection for negotiation skills: using robots and arrays to study courtship interactions"

Dr. Gail Patricelli is an Assistant Professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. She received her B.A. from Whitman College and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 2002, and was an NSF postdoctoral fellow in bioinformatics at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The broad goal of Dr. Patricelli's research is to understand the functional and mechanistic conditions that favor complex animal signals, and the consequences of this complexity on signal evolution. Her approach has been integrative, examining functional, environmental and mechanistic influences on signal content and design. She has focused on studying birds in the wild, and to this end, she has developed techniques for detailed observation and experimental manipulation of both visual and acoustic signals in the field, including interactive robots and terrestrial microphone arrays. This technology has allowed her to address new and previously-intractable questions in animal behavior. Her current research addresses three main questions: 1) The causes and functional implications of directional sound radiation in songbirds, 2) Sexual selection and acoustic communication in sage-grouse, and 3) The effects of anthropogenic noise on acoustic communication and breeding behaviors of sage-grouse and other birds.

This Keynote Lecture is sponsored by Villanova University.

Abstract: In studies of sexual selection in the wild, measures of sexual display traits (e.g. trail length, song output) typically explain only 20-40% of the variation among individuals in mating success; so what explains the remainder of this variation?  Effective courtship negotiation skillssuch as the ability to choose and approach a courtship partner, and adjust sexual displays in response to the partners signalsmay be an important component of this unexplained variation, but we know little about the fitness consequences of these behavioral tactics. The growing use of robotics and sensor arrays has allowed us to examine in detail, and even participate in, animal negotiations about mating.  I will discuss studies of sexual selection in the wild using these new technologies, including my work on sexual signaling by bowerbirds and greater sage-grouse using robotic females and microphone arrays. These results suggest that to be successful, signaling animals may need both attractive signals and effective negotiation skills, allowing them to tactically respond to changes in the social and environmental context of courtship.

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W. John Smith

Keynote title: "Ethology, communication, and complexity"

Dr. W. John Smith is an Emeritus Professor, Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in 1961 and became a faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. Dr. Smith's primary research interests include animal communication focusing primarily on tyrannid flycatchers. He is the author of The Behavior of Communicating.

Abstract: Ethologys roots lie in the systematic study of naturally occurring behavior.  We observe, find patterns, and seek to understand and connect those patterns through further observation and experiment.  Niko Tinbergen suggested four basic goals:  to explore the proximate causation, ontogeny, functions, and evolution of behavior.  Among the patterns fascinating to him and to other early ethologists were striking, highly specialized signaling actions.  Indeed, many species employ not just diverse signals, but also several other kinds of signaling performances, and such actions are essential in fostering and sustaining social order. Signaling enables animals to share information.  Using the modern concept of information, and identifying those kinds of information that are selectively shared (or withheld) take our analyses beyond the initial focus on the internal, physiological causes of each individuals behavior Tinbergens first goal.  The level of analysis changes.  We ask what signaling contributes to alerting, warning, and, especially, negotiating:  issues involving individuals as participants interacting with other participants, and nurturing social relationships.  These tasks are markedly complex in a great many species. My goals here are to discuss, briefly, the nature of information, to use a few examples to explore the complexity of specialized signaling behavior, and to argue that attention to social behavior involves a different conceptual framework a level of explanation not implicit in ethologys traditional focus on the bases of an individuals behavior.  These goals are not novel, and are not a call to replace one level of analysis with another. Indeed, they are built upon the historical and ever-relevant roots of ethology, and call us to goals clearly stated by Robert Hinde more than a quarter of a century ago.

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