2021 AZAALAS Webinar: Mel Wohlgemuth and the UA Bat Lab

2021 AZAALAS Webinar
September 16: 2:30-3:30p.m.

Dr Melville Wohlgemuth
Assistant Professor
 University of Arizona Neuroscience

Introduction to the UA Bat Lab

Our lab is interested in how the brain interacts with the environment for sensory-driven control of natural behavior.  More specifically, we are interested in how bottom-up circuits work in concert with top-down circuits to react to incoming sensory information, and plan behaviors over longer timescales to meet goals.  For example, when you are driving your car, you simultaneously react to the cars around you while planning your route to reach your destination.  In order to study how the brain accomplishes these sensory driven actions, it is important that we recreate natural conditions in the laboratory so that we can invoke realistic sensory and motor experiences to research.  To this end, we study how the echolocating bat adapts its natural hunting behaviors with respect to sonar echo information for both moment-by-moment behavioral control, and longer-term planning of prey interception.  Our research is focused on an interconnected cortico-collicular circuit that integrates arriving sensory information with long-term goal planning for the bat’s natural hunting behaviors.  By studying this circuit in the bat, we learn general principles about how the mammalian brain performs sensorimotor adaptations across short and long timescales.

Dr Wohlgemuth first got into science as a result of his interest in birdwatching:

Soon after college, I turned my hobby of listening to bird songs in the field into research on the learning and maintenance of bird song in the laboratory of Dr. Marc Schmidt at the University of Pennsylvania.  As a research assistant, I studied how the brain of the bird processes the songs that they sing.  Realizing that I needed to learn more about the evolution of birdsong in the wild, I then pursued a masters degree at the University of St. Andrews studying in the laboratory of Dr. Peter Slater.  My master’s work examined the longitudinal inheritance of song features versus song sequencing in population of chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) living on the Orkney Islands of Scotland.  This work found that song acoustic features were learned on home islands, while song sequencing was formed in adult territories.  I then wanted to go back into the laboratory and study how the brain of the bird controls song features and song sequencing.  I studied these phenomena in Dr. Michael Brainard’s laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco for my Ph.D.  I researched how a vocal motor structure in the brain of the Bengalese finch (Lonchura striata domestica) controls the acoustics of individual syllables, as well as the sequencing of those syllables across time.  This work then inspired an interest in how the brain uses arriving sensory information to inform adaptive motor behaviors.  I went and completed my postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Cynthia Moss at Johns Hopkins University researching sensorimotor adaptations in the echolocating big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus).  At Johns Hopkins University, I examined the behavioral coordination of the bat’s sonar vocalizations with positioning of the external auditory system, as well a how the brain of the bat performs the necessary sensorimotor transformations for these adaptive behaviors.  Now, as an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Arizona, I continue to use the echolocating bat as a model for natural sensorimotor processes.  We employ quantitative ethology, multichannel physiology, optogenetics, and computational modeling to understand how the brain of the bat coordinates behavior across timescales and dimensions.

For more information on the UA Bat Lab, visit: https://arizonabatlab.com/

Join us for the live webcast - Password: UACSeminars - See slides

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