Brain, Behavior and Evolution of Social Signaling.
Communication is an inherently interactive process involving the active exchange of information between conspecifics. The aim of this line of research is to elucidate the co-evolution of brain and behavior in the vocal communication system of common marmosets. We combine field studies in Northeastern Brazil of the species in its natural habitat with detailed experimental behavioral and neurophysiological experiments in the laboratory. Neurophysiological studies are performed on freely-moving animals as they engage in their natural behaviors. This unique, broadly integrative approach provides a novel platform in which to examine the complex interplay between the social, ecological and neurobiological factors that contribute to primate vocal communication.
The Primate Social Brain.
Primates, like us, are most distinguished from other animals by the sophistication of our societies and the complex strategies employed by individuals to succeed in this setting. Given the significance of sociality in primate behavior, it is clear that this dimension of our repertoire has had a significant impact on the evolution of our brains. Surprisingly, this facet of neocortical function remains poorly understood. A key challenge in elucidating the primate social brain is that relatively few areas of the neocortex appear exclusively dedicated to social function. Explicating the supporting neural circuitry, therefore, necessitates that we examine the brain the animals naturally navigate the challenges of their social landscape. This innovative line of research implements a suite of novel neural recording and behavioral approaches to address fundamental, but previously unexplored, questions about the primate social brain.
Neural Circuitry Supporting Perception and Cognition
The most complex primate behaviors involve intricate neural mechanisms for both perceiving and acting upon the world around us. Over the past decade, neuroscience has enjoyed a renaissance of discovery as a suite of modern molecular technologies has opened the doors to investigate the brain with a level of precision not previously possible. We are currently utilizing technologies, such as optogenetics, pharmacogenetics and two-photon calcium imaging, to the study of the marmoset brain in order to elucidate the functional neural circuitry supporting primate perception and cognition.