Title: Assistant Professor
Office: 800O Rieveschl Hall
SBBE, Behavioral neurobiology and sensory ecology; vision in natural habitats; control systems in visual guidance; animal orientation and navigation
I am a Neuroethologist. My research aims to discover how sense organs, and the neural processing of sensory information, mediate and constrain animal behavior under natural conditions. Sense organs both make possible a given behavior, and also limit its range of capacity. By spanning neural, sensory and behavioral fields I operate at an intersection of several biological, psychological and engineering disciplines. This allows collaborations that extend the competencies of the investigators involved – an exceedingly and increasingly important factor in the progress, and funding, of complex biological research – and also extend bridges of understanding between all-too-frequently insular disciplines. My research program consists of two major projects:
1. Mechanisms of navigation by path integration. I study the navigational process of path integration in fiddler crabs, which are the ideal subject for three reasons. First, unlike other animals, they regularly walk in virtually any direction relative to their body axis. This means that in sensation, measurement and computation they must deal with three, rather than two, degrees of terrestrial locomotory freedom (direction, distance and turns, rather than merely the latter two). Second, they are the only animals known to primarily, and possibly exclusively, use idiothetic path integration for homing. This means that they are a model system for investigating a real biological manifestation of the worst possible mode of navigation. Third, they have highly developed stabilizing eye movements, which operate much like those in humans. This means that the role of eye movements in the sense of navigational space is best studied in, and generalized from, these animals.
2. Optical and physiological adaptations of retina to environment. I relate animals’ visual morphology and physiology to their behavior and the structure of their natural habitats. The goal is to understand the way natural stimuli are perceived, and to understand the evolutionary adaptation of sense organs with respect to the behaviors they mediate. This research follows the trail of information vertically through different levels of biological organization: from the spatial structure of light in an animal’s habitat, to the gross anatomy of its eyes, to the sensory cells’ physiological responses to light, to the higher-order cells’ filtering and computational properties. What binds all of these things together is the behavior of the animal itself.
See more about Animal Behavior at UC.