pic of a Male Zebra Finch, a Budgie and a European Starling

A Male Zebra Finch, a Budgie and a European Starling

The Stars of the lab

Pic of the lab at Botany Pond

Margoliash Lab in 2012 (Left to Right) Mike, Hao, Etienne, Kyler, Ana, Dan, Tim, Tiffany, Dan and Daniel

Margoliash Lab (Circa 2012)

A male courting a female Zebra Finch

A male courting a female Zebra Finch

Pair of Zebra finches

Pic of European Starling

A singing European Starling

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)


Welcome to the Margoliash Lab

Neuroethology investigates nervous system function by relating it to innate and learned natural behaviors. It is distinguished from much of traditional neurobiology and psychology by being fundamentally centered in evolutionary biology, and by examining behavioral specialization across the breadth of the animal kingdom.

We take a neuroethology perspective to the study of vocal learning. Our approach is comparative, studying several species of song birds and humans, with strong interactions between elements of the research program directly informing each other. Our approach is also computational, not seeking global formal models of brain function but being data driven, seeking to provide compact biophysically-motivated descriptions of brain activity and behavior, and relations between the two. We adopt whatever technology is necessary to address our questions, but our approach is not centered on technology. Our experiments include electrophysiological studies from brain slices, in sleeping birds, and in freely-moving singing birds, from single units to multisite recordings, recordings and analyses of developing birds, operantly trained birds, and other behavioral approaches, and applying a broad range of histological techniques. In the past but not currently, this has also included field work. Finally, our approach is also highly collaborative, and currently we have collaborations with the laboratories of Henry Abarbanel (physics, UCSD), Franz Goller (biology, Univ. Utah), Gabriel Mindlin (physics, University of Buenos Aires), and Howard Nusbaum (psychology, University of Chicago).

Currently the lab engages in three main research thrusts. We investigate vocal production in adults and in juveniles learning to sing, examining activity in pathways from the forebrain to the syrinx, and the role of various feedback pathways. These days, much of this work is centered on the "gesture" representations we recently described that appear to be the basic elements of vocal production and vocal learning. We investigate the role of offline mechanisms especially during sleep in the consolidation of auditory perceptual memories and the shaping of song development. And we build individual Hodgkin-Huxley models of neurons and networks of the neurons attempting to describe the activity in the song system. To date, this work has focused on the forebrain nucleus HVC.

Our lab is relatively small and each individual typically works independently on his or her own project. Yet it is highly interactive, with constant exchanging of ideas and help fabricating the latest gizmo, a common area with kitchenette to have lunches, regular journal clubs, video conferences with our collaborator laboratories, and much more. The space was beautifully renovated in 2006 to create a modern laboratory inside of the graceful old Anatomy building, with its tall ceilings, large windows (hence bright interiors), limestone facade and gargoyles. Explore these pages to learn more about us and our science.