Gordon Research Conferences
Meeting Details

Neuroethology: Behavior, Evolution & Neurobiology
Gordon Research Conference


August 29 - September 3, 1999


The Queen's College
Oxford, United Kingdom


John G. Hildebrand

Vice Chairs:
Harold Zakon & Harvey J. Karten

Meeting Program

Sunday evening, 8/29/99 Session 1 – 19:30-21:30
Evolution: Historical and Contemporary Views
Co-Chairs/Discussion Leaders:
  • Heather Eisthen (Dept. of Zoology, Michigan State Univ.)
  • Gabriele Nevitt (Sec. of Neurobiology, Physiol. & Behavior, UC-Davis)
Jane Maienschein (Dept. of Philosophy, Arizona State Univ.) --[40 min]
"Background to Neuroethology: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and So What?"
-- What role has evolutionary biology played in the emergence of neuroethology, and is it necessary? What role does the capacity to compare, through comparative biology, play in illuminating our understanding? And how has the field developed over time?

Simon Conway Morris, F.R.S. (Univ. of Cambridge, UK) --[40 min]
"Ancient Brains, Ancient Behaviors: When did Animals Stop Being Stupid?"
-- This talk will show what the fossil record can and cannot do with respect to neurobiology and ethology. The sources of evidence are various: soft-bodied fossils, trace fossils and the framework of metazoan phylogeny.
Monday morning, 8/30/99 Session 2 – 9:00-12:00
Evolution of Neural Systems and Behavior
Co-Chairs/Discussion Leaders:
  • John S. Edwards (Dept. of Zoology, Univ. of Washington)
  • Andrew N. Spencer (Bamfield Marine Station, Canada)
Ronald Harris-Warrick (Dept. of Neurobiology & Behavior, Cornell Univ.) --[25 min]
"Origins of the Diversity of Voltage-Gated Ion Channels and Receptors"
-- The molecular mechanisms that underlie the tremendous diversity of voltage-gated and transmitter-activated ion channels will be discussed. Most examples will be taken from the voltage-gated potassium channels and ligand-gated channels. The evolution of channel function will also be discussed.

Jonathan Bacon (Sussex Centre for Neuroscience, Univ. of Sussex, UK) --[25 min
"Evolution of Escape Circuitry in Flies"
-- This talk will describe how the neuronal components of the circuit in Drosophila communicate via electrical synapses and how the (non-escaping) shaking-B mutation led to discovery of the molecular components of invertebrate gap junctions, the innexins; surprisingly these have no sequence homology to connexins, the vertebrate gap-junction molecules. Shaking-B antibody seems to recognize electrical synapses in other insect orders.

James Truman (Dept. of Zoology, Univ. of Washington) --[25 min]
"Neuronal Lineages and the Evolution and Diversification of the Insect Nervous System"
-- During its evolution, the insect nervous system has had to adapt to two major challenges: the invention of flight and the development of complete metamorphosis. These adaptations had been made despite retaining a conservative pattern of nervous system development based on a rather fixed number of neuronal lineages. The talk will focus on how developmental innovations in the nervous system may have arisen to meet the needs imposed by these challenges.

Kiisa Nishikawa (Dept. of Biological Sci., Northern Arizona Univ.) --[25 min]
"Evolution of Animal Behavior: Insights from Comparative Phylogenetic Studies"
-- Recent comparative studies of neural circuits, neuroanatomy, and behavior in a variety of organisms (specific examples include fishes, frogs, and owls) demonstrate how closely related species differ in neural circuits and behavior. Similar abilities in closely related species are often conferred by convergent, rather than homologous, circuits. These studies suggest that instead of evolving conservatively, neural circuits evolve rapidly and are finely tuned to ecology and natural history.

Monday evening, 8/30/99 20:00-22:00
Business Meeting and Poster Session
  • Business Meeting (immediately after dinner)
  • Poster Session (open to all participants)
Tuesday morning, 8/31/99 Session 3 – 9:00-12:00
Animal Communication
Co-Chairs/Discussion Leaders:
  • Cynthia Moss (Dept. of Psychology, Univ. of Maryland)
  • Andrea Megela Simmons (Dept. of Psychology, Brown Univ.)
Jack Bradbury (Dept. of Biology, UCSD) --[25 min]
"The Interplay between Mechanism and Function in the Evolution of Animal Communication"
-- This talk will first outline some of the evolutionary (and economic) constraints that the basic process of communication imposes on new signal substrates (preadaptations). It will then turn to the role of specific functional contexts in setting further constraints on the form signals can take and the features receivers must be able to extract (e.g. handicaps vs conventional signals, conflicts of interest, information accrual rates). Finally, it will consider the coevolutionary process between sender and receiver and how that might limit mechanism-driven processes such as sensory exploitation over longer time scales.

Carl Hopkins (Dept. of Neurobiology & Behavior, Cornell Univ.) --[25min]
"The Evolution of Electrogenic Diversity with Examples from Electric Communication Signals in Fish"
-- Recent molecular sequencing has generated the first phylogeny for mormyrid electric fishes of Africa. These data permit analysis of the evolution of electric discharges in this group. The electric discharges play a critical role in species recognition, and special sensory mechanisms in peripheral electroreceptors and in midbrain allow precise temporal analysis of electric organ discharge characteristics.

Robert Johnston (Dept. of Psychology, Cornell Univ.) --[25 min]
"Neural Mechanisms of Olfactory Communication: From Insects to Mammals"
-- This talk will review what is known about olfactory coding as it relates to responses to odor signals, ranging from single molecules to complex mixtures. The aim will be to show some similarities across taxa as well as some differences, and to point to areas that are ripe for future research. The presentation will touch on various levels of olfactory function, including genes for receptors and the distribution of expression of these genes, neurophysiological responses of receptor cells, spatial segregation of olfactory input, and segregation of higher-level perceptual functions in the central nervous system.

George Uetz (Dept. of Biological Sci., Univ. of Cincinnati) --[25 min]
"Evolutionary and Comparative View of Visual Communication"
-- This presentation will provide an overview of aspects of visual communication in a variety of animal taxa, briefly review the biological contexts, environmental constraints and evolutionary consequences of visual communication, and then provide examples of research on spiders using a novel video digitization and playback technique.
Tuesday evening, 8/31/99 Session 4 – 19:30-21:30
Audition and Auditory Communication
Co-Chairs/Discussion Leaders:
  • Sheryl Coombs (Parmly Hearing Inst., Loyola Univ.)
  • Edwin Rubel (Bloedel Hearing Res. Ctr., Univ. of Washington)
Arthur Popper (Dept. of Biological Sci., Univ. of Maryland) --[25min]
"Fish and the Evolution of the Vertebrate Auditory System"
-- This talk will take an "ichthyocentric" view of the evolution of the vertebrate auditory system. It will be argued that the major features of the system can all be found in the fishes, and that changes in the auditory system (and hearing) in tetrapods are very often "modifications" of themes that first arose in fishes.

Peter Narins (Dept. of Physiological Sci., UCLA) --[25 min]
"Comparative Acoustic Communication in an Evolutionary Context"
-- This talk will consider the advantages of this modality (including vibratory signaling) in the broad sense and present (a) some of the classical adaptations exhibited by animals to facilitate this behavior, as well as (b) some of the newer discoveries relating to animal's adaptations for acoustic and seismic signaling. The goal will be to stimulate active discussion of how and why these adaptations have evolved, and what insights can be made from these studies.

Alison Doupe (Dept. of Physiology, UCSF) --[25 min]
"Neural Circuits Required Throughout Life for Vocal Plasticity: A Comparison of Different Songbird Species and of Humans"
-- Although many songbirds, like humans, become less dependent on auditory feedback as their song matures, it is becoming increasingly clear that adults of some species actively maintain various aspects of their song using auditory feedback, albeit at a lower level than in juveniles. Moreover, in many of these birds a forebrain-basal ganglia circuit seems to be involved in song modification and maintenance at all stages of life; similar circuitry may be required in humans as well, when speech is not fully automatic or when it is learned later in life. Comparative studies on the regulation of vocal plasticity in adults should shed light on the nature of signals and circuitry required for learning at all ages, as well as on developmental changes and species differences in the capacity for plasticity.
Wednesday morning, 9/1/99 Session 5 – 9:00-12:00
Spatial Learning and Orientation
Co-Chairs/Discussion Leaders:
  • Andre Fenton (Inst. of Physiol., Acad. of Sciences, Czech Republic)
  • Thomas Collett (Sussex Ctr. for Neuroscience, Univ. of Sussex, UK)
Nicholas Strausfeld (Div. of Neurobiology, Univ. of Arizona) --[25min]
"Contextual Sensory Processing and Place Memory: Organization and Evolution of Higher Brain Centers in Arthropods"
-- This talk will summarize evidence that specific brain centers, called mushroom bodies, are necessary for spatial memory in insects. Functional attributes of mushroom-body organization will be reviewed and the occurrence of structurally similar centers across the arthropods will be reconstructed arthropod phylogeny, itself derived from cladistic analysis of brain structures, suggests that these centers have arisen at least twice. The significance of this to the phylogenetic affinities of lobopods, diplopods, and arachnids will be discussed.

Fred Dyer (Dept. of Zoology, Michigan State Univ.) --[25 min]
"Cognition and Foraging in Honey Bees: How do Bees Represent the World?"
-- In recent years there has been increasing acceptance of the idea that insects form reasonable rich internal models of the outside world, but the utility of such a "cognitive" perspective on insect behavior remains controversial. This talk will explore this issue using insights from honey bees, specifically studies of flower choice, compass orientation, and dance communication. lt will be argued that the cognitive perspective has explanatory value and is a useful guide to future research in neurobiology, behavioral ecology, and robotics, but certain pitfalls will be identified that can retard or interfere with our understanding.

Nicola Clayton (Sec. of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, UC-Davis) --[25 min]
"Episodic-Like Memory and the Avian Hippocampus"
-- Comparative studies of the hippocampus in two families of birds that show natural variation in food-storing behavior provide a unique source of evidence for the role of the hippocampus in learning and memory. While the most critical component about a cache site may be its spatial location, there is mounting evidence that food-storing birds remember additional information about the contents and status of cache sites: Indeed, recent work on food-storing jays suggests they can remember when a trial-unique event occurred as well as what and where, thereby fulfilling the key behavioral criteria for episodic memory in non-human animals. The implications for studies of hippocampal function and animal cognition will be discussed.

Katalin Gothard (Center for Neuroscience, UC-Davis) --[25 min]
"The Contribution of Idiothetic and External Sensory Cues to the Hippocampal Code for Space"
-- Place cells in the rat hippocampus form spatial maps in different frames of reference. Distinct populations of place cells encode location in global spatial coordinates, defined by fixed objects, and in local coordinates, defined by objects that changed location but control the rat's behavior. The characteristics of the transition between frames of reference reveal the relative contribution of self-motion and external sensory cues to the hippocampal code for space.
Wednesday evening, 9/1/99 Session 6 – 19:30-21:30
Vision and Motion Detection
Co-Chairs/Discussion Leaders:
  • Robert Barlow (Center for Vision Res., SUNY-Syracuse)
  • Nicolas Franceschini (CNRS Neurocybernetics Study Group, Marseille, France)
Michael Land, F.R.S. (Sussex Centre for Neuroscience, Univ. of Sussex, UK) --[25 min]
"The Evolution of Eye-Movements in Animals"
-- All mobile animals are faced with the conflicting tasks of sampling the surroundings whilst ensuring stable, clear vision. Many species in three different phyla have converged on a "saccade and fixate" strategy, with fast scene-changing movements and slow stabilizations. However, other visually successful animals have adopted slow scanning systems, and the relative merits of the different systems will be discussed.

Barrie Frost (Dept. of Psychology, Queen's Univ., Ontario, Canada) --[25 min]
"Vision and Motion Detection in Birds"
-- This talk will consider current work extending research both in the tectofugal (object motion or animate motion) pathway, wherein courtship motion and other behavioral sequences may be visually recognized by individual groups of cells, and also in the higher reaches of the Accessory Optic System, where self-produced visual flowfields are processed and sent to occulomotor control centers, the cerebellum, and now even the hippocampus, where they could be used for navigational purposes.

Robert Wurtz (Lab. for Sensorimotor Res., NIH-NEI) --[25 min]
"Cortical Specialization for Visual Motion in the Monkey"
-- The primate visual system has two visual pathways through the cerebral cortex, and visual motion processing is concentrated in one of them, the dorsal or parietal pathway. Beyond the initial cortical area devoted to motion processing (area MT), the cortical areas seem to be specialized for different functions. Sensitivity to large-field motion, appropriate far the analysis of optic flow, is concentrated in one region (area MSTd), while analysis of object motion may be more concentrated in another region (area MSTl).
Thursday morning, 9/2/99 Session 7 – 9:00-12:00
Sensory and Motor Control: From Animals to Robots
Co-Chairs/Discussion Leaders:
  • Michael Dickinson (Dept. of Integrative Biology, UC-Berkeley)
  • Roy Ritzmann (Dept. of Biology, Case Western Reserve Univ.)
Ryohei Kanzaki (Inst. of Biol. Sci., Uni. of Tsukuba, Japan & PRESTO, JST) --[25min]
"Behavioral and Neural Mechanisms of Odor-Source Searching Strategy of a Silk Moth Evaluated with a Mobile Robot"
-- In the walking moth species, Bombyx mori, walking toward a pheromone source is controlled by a self-generated zigzag program that is triggered by intermittent pheromonal stimulation of the antennae. This program consists of forward straight-line walking, zigzag turns, and looping behavior (turns of more than 360 degrees). The programmed sequence of the movements is "reset" and "restarted" from the beginning in response to pulsed stimulation. A pheromone-triggered, flip-flopping neural activity pattern produced in the brain plays an important role in controlling the programmed behavior. In order to evaluate the behavioral strategy and neural mechanisms of the odor-source-searching behavior, a simple mobile robot was developed, which had male moth antennae for detecting the pheromone.

Holk Cruse (Faculty of Biol., Univ. of Bielefeld, Germany) --[25 min]
"Software and Hardware Simulations of Insect Walking"
-- An artificial neural network simulation is described which is based on detailed ethological investigations using stick insects. The simulation shows that an extremely decentralized architecture is sufficient (and possibly necessary) to describe even complex behavior, when physical properties of the world are exploited. In cooperation with engineers the validity of this software simulation is tested using six-legged robots.

Mandyam Srinivasan (Centre for Visual Sci., Australian National Univ.) --[25 min]
"Visual Orientation: From Honey Bees to Robots"
-- This talk will highlight some of the visual strategies used by honey bees for flight control and navigation and also examine the extent to which these strategies can be applied to the design of novel, autonomous robots. The goal is to stimulate discussion and to debate the merits of "biomimetic" versus "bioprinciple" approaches to robotics.

John K. Chapin (Dept. of Neurobiology & Anatomy, MCP Hahnemann Univ. of Health Sci.) --[25 min]
"Use of Simultaneous Neuronal Population Recordings Elucidates Sensorimotor Function: Mammals to Robots"
-- The neuroethological approach to investigation of brain mechanisms is facilitated by the use of techniques for simultaneous neuronal population recordings. This presentation will demonstrate how they can be used to evaluate the mechanisms for complex sequences of sensory discrimination behavior, and also complex motor sequences. Finally, this approach is ideal for generating real-time read-outs of neuronal population information, and using those read-outs to control external devices such as robotic arms.
Thursday evening, 9/2/99 Session 8 -- 19:30-21:30
Behavioral States, Arousal, and Disposition to Behavior
Co-Chairs/Discussion Leaders:
  • Edward A. Kravitz (Dept. of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical Sch.)
  • Russell Fernald (Dept. of Psychology, Stanford Univ.)
Robyn Hudson (Institute of Biomedical Investigations, National Autonomous Univ. of Mexico) --[25 min]
"Evolution of Temporal Niches"
-- Adaptive behavior depends on an appropriate match between an organism's physiological state and environmental conditions. Most species have evolved mechanisms enabling them to anticipate predictable fluctuations in the environment ? daily and seasonal changes being just two of the most obvious -- and to adjust their physiology and behavior accordingly. Neural and hormonal mechanisms underlying the often highly specific behavioral responses to such fluctuations not only represent an important area in evolutionary biology but provide background information essential to a precise understanding of neural and behavioral processes more generally.

Frederic Libersat (Dept. of Life Sci., Ben Gurion Univ., Israel) --[25min]
"A Parasitoid Wasp Manipulates Behavioral States in its Cockroach Prey"
-- Most venoms generally act peripherally at the neuromuscular junction, resulting in different types of paralysis. Reports of specific central effects of venoms on behavior have been rare. One instance where venoms appear to be injected directly by the predator into the CNS of the prey and act centrally by inducing various behavioral states is the case of insects stung by a few species of parasitoid wasps. The injection of venom by the wasp Ampulex compressa has two distinct behavioral effects on cockroach behavior: it induces grooming behavior, followed by long-lasting lethargic state during which the animals respond poorly to various stimuli.

Gene Robinson (Dept. of Entomology, Univ. of Illinois) --[25 min]
"Social Evolution and the Emergence of Behavioral Plasticity"
-- The goal of this talk will be to explore the relationship between behavioral maturation and transitions from one behavioral state to another. This will be accomplished by using insights gained from genetic, endocrine, and neurochemical analyses of honey bee behavior, as well as an appreciation of its evolutionary underpinnings.
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