I am passionate about understanding how in vertebrates, brain structure and function have evolved in parallel with the emergence of diversity in species-specific behavioral repertoires. I have experience in teleost and avian neuroanatomy and have studied animal behavior in lab and field settings. I am particularly interested in combining functional mapping and region-specific patterns of gene expression to better understand the relationship between the brain and behavior.
In my doctoral research, I used the social dominance hierarchy of the African cichlid, Astatotilapia burtoni, as a model to study neural circuits that control social behaviors. One of my projects focused on characterizing neuroanatomical differences in the serotonergic system of subordinate and dominant males, as well as serotonin turnover in the preoptic area, ventral tuberal nucleus (partial homolog to the mammalian anterior hypothalamus) and the raphe. I found that compared to dominants, subordinate males have higher serotonin turnover in the raphe and preoptic area, but not in other hypothalamic nuclei which have been implicated in the regulation of aggression. In a second project, I mapped the expression of the immediate early gene egr-1, as a marker for neuronal activity in males that had either fought an opponent male or courted females. This work led to the discovery that a greater proportion of vasotocin neurons become activated during a fight than during a bout of courting.
As a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Giorgio Vallortigara, I focused on identifying brain nuclei and hormonal mechanisms that regulate the approach response of newly hatched, visually naïve chicks, to a stuffed-hen stimulus. I performed intraperitoneal injections of Substance P, as well as intracerebroventricular injections of vasotocin and mesotocin aimed at the lateral ventricle to test how these manipulations affected the preference for a stuffed-hen stimulus.
As a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Clemens Kuepper, I will investigate questions related to aggressive behavior and neuroanatomical differences in male Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) morphs. In this species, there are three morphs (Independents, Satellites and Feaders) that can be distinguished based on morphology, behavior (aggression levels and mating tactics) and importantly, genetics (see Kupper et al., 2016). The recent detailed characterization of the underlying ‘supergene’ that gave rise to the evolution of these three morphs allows us to delve deeper into examining the relative contributions of genes within the supergene locus to the fascinating phenotypic differences in these male morphs.
2017 – Present Postdoctoral research, Avian Neurogenetics in the Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), Clemens Kuepper Group, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany
2014 – 2017 Postdoctoral research, CIMEC (Center for Mind/Brain Sciences), University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy
2014 PhD, Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
2008 MSc, Biology, Smith College, Northampton, MA, USA
2004 BA, Evolutionary Biology and Animal Behavior, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, USA