Georg Striedter

GeorgAlthough the brains of different species share myriad similarities, they also differ in many respects. Our laboratory wants to understand how and why those species differences arose. To that end, we conduct two kinds of research. First, we ask how the brains of different species diverge in their development. We ask, for instance, at what point in development the brains of parrots become larger, relative to body size, than the brains of other birds. The aim here is to determine what evolutionary changes in the cellular and molecular mechanisms of development underlie the species differences in adult brain anatomy. Ultimately, we intend to manipulate development experimentally in order to mimic some of the adult species differences in brains, and thus to test our hypotheses about how evolution modified development. Second, we seek to understand the functional consequences of those species differences in brain anatomy. Why, for instance, do only parrots, songbirds, and hummingbirds have direct projections from the forebrain to the brainstem vocal motor neurons. Probably, they have those unusual projections because they facilitate a bird’s ability to mimic sounds. But why was it useful for parrots to become vocal mimics? Our research has revealed that parrots probably evolved vocal mimicry because female parrots prefer males that share their calls. In the long run, we intend to construct a comprehensive, mechanistic explanation of why parrots are so “smart.” More generally, we seek to understand how and why species differences in brain anatomy evolved.

UCI Faculty Profile