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My research interests centre on communication and behaviour. In particular I am interested in acoustic communication, vocal production, vocal learning and the evolution of animal signals. In my research, I use a hypothesis-driven approach to investigate how the sounds that animals (including humans) are shaped by their anatomy, physiology, and behaviour and by their environment.

In my dissertation research I investigated novel sources of peripheral vocal complexity and the way that the two sides of the songbird vocal organ, the syrinx contribute to, and constrain vocal production and complexity. Read more about this research here.

Currently, I am working in the Communication and Social Behaviour Group at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. Our research covers a range of topics related to vocal production and vocal plasticity. In particular we study how birds and other animals cope with urban noise pollution. Noise is a problem of growing concern for conservation biologists as well as for those concerned with human health and safety. Across the globe, high levels of noise pollution have been linked with decreased breeding success, species richness, and changes in vocal behaviour in a variety of bird, mammal and amphibian species.

Chronic exposure to loud noise has been shown to increase physiological stress responses such as elevated plasma glucocorticoids and depressed immune function, and increased oxidative stress in the brain and organs of the immune system. Chronic noise can result in high blood pressure, hyperglycemia, and elevated cholesterol levels as well as delays in brain development, impaired cognitive function and deficits in learning and memory. Chronic noise exposure in children has been linked to increased plasma glucocorticoid levels, learning delays and reading and language comprehension deficits. We are using songbirds as model organisms to investigate how noise affects the behaviour and fitness of exposed individuals.

I also investigate the syrinx (voice box) of birds, and how the diversity in structure of this organ shapes the voice of different birds. On an ecological and evolutionary scale, by identifying the aspects of song most difficult for birds to produce and the sources of complexity in bird vocalizations, we gain insights into the forces and constrain or enhance vocal communication and understand better the selective forces that drive the evolution of vocal signalling.