Research summary

 

My current research program focuses on the acoustical and neurophysiological mechanisms of spatial hearing in a well-established animal model: the barn owl. While the owl has historically provided numerous neural parallels for human psychophysical findings, my most recent results have led to novel hypotheses and insights into the mechanisms by which humans are able to localize sounds in noisy and/or echoic environments. A computational model developed to test these findings, in both owls and humans, is likely to have broad implications, as it requires no specialized neural circuitry.

Prior to working with the barn owl, my research focused on acoustic communication in a songbird. Surprisingly, these small birds localized sounds nearly as well the barn owl, a finding best explained by the fact that songbirds must track mates over long distances and defend large territories in noisy/echoic environments. Thus, the sound localization mechanisms that small birds use may have faced evolutionary pressures as strong as those encountered by the barn owl – a highly specialized nocturnal predator capable of catching prey using only auditory cues.