Design Principles in the Evolution of Animal Communication

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - 9:30am - 10:10am
EE/CS 3-180
W. Tecumseh Fitch (University of St. Andrews)
The evolution of communication provides one of the few
examples in evolutionary biology where principles of physical
acoustics, interacting with developmental constraints on
physiology and motor control, have clear and predictable
effects on evolutionary outcomes. I will provide two clear
example of this, relating to basic physiological constraints
on fundamental and formant frequencies, and various
morphological tricks that vertebrates have evolved to evade
such constraints. Then I will explore a more speculative
hypothesis concerning the neural control of vocalization:
that the production of complex learned vocalizations requires
particular neural correlates (direct fronto-bulbar
connections) and behaviours (babbling or subsong), and
furthermore that constraints on development may mean that
there are only a few ways to achieve such vocal capabilities,
raising the interesting possibility of deep homology in the
evolution of communication. This hypothesis, though
speculative, is testable and is consistent with the most
recent information on genes involved in vocal learning.
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