Jeffrey Podos

Photograph of Jeff Podos


Contact Info

Phone: 413-545-0847
Office: 332A Morrill II South


B.A., Franklin & Marshall College, 1989
Ph.D., Duke Uiversity, 1996


1998-2000, University of Arizona

Research Interests

Mechanisms and Evolution of Vertebrate Behavior; Bioacoustics

Research in my laboratory addresses the interface of animal behavior, organismal biology, and evolutionary biology. We are particularly interested in a question first articulated by the ethologist Niko Tinbergen: How do proximate mechanisms of behavior, such as biomechanics, physiological performance, and development, shape the evolutionary diversification of behavior? Our work focuses on vocal behavior and evolution in vertebrates, especially songbirds.

Laboratory work aims to characterize aspects of vocal production and perception in songbirds. Experimental studies of vocal learning in hand-reared sparrows are used to assess how limits on vocal proficiency constrain the evolution of vocal frequency, timing, and syntax features. Complementary laboratory activities include quantitative surveys of vocal diversity using bioacoustic analyses, characterization of display motor patterns through high-speed video analyses, and tests of birds' perceptual preferences for songs of varying acoustic structure.

Field work is conducted at local sites, in Brazil, and in the Galápagos Islands. Local field studies address questions of song function and perception in birds. Current research in Brasil, conducted in collaboration with Regina Macedo and her students at the Universidade de Brasilia, addresses questions about sexual selection and communication in a Neotropical songbird, the blue-black grassquit. Work in the Galápagos asks how, in Darwinís finches, the evolutionary diversification of vocal tract morphology has shaped the evolution of vocal proficiency and song structure. The characterization of functional links between vocal tract morphology and song, together with field playback studies, is providing insight into relationships between morphological adaptation, vocal diversification, and reproductive isolation.

Click into my laboratory web page to learn more.

Representative Publications

Lahti, D.C., Moseley, D.L., & Podos, J. 2011. Tradeoff between accuracy and performance in bird song learning. Ethology, 117: 802-811.

Byers, J.A., Hebets, E.A., & Podos, J. 2010. Female mate choice based upon male motor performance. Animal Behaviour, 79: 771-778.

Goodale, E. & Podos, J.2010. Persistence of song types in Darwin’s finches, Geospiza fortis, over four decades. Biology Letters, 6: 589-592.

Podos, J. 2010. Acoustic discrimination of sympatric morphs in Darwin’s finches: a behavioral mechanism for assortative mating? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 365: 1031-1039.

Podos, J., Lahti, D.C., & Moseley, D.L. 2009. Vocal performance and sensorimotor learning in songbirds. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 40: 159-195.

Podos, J. 2001. Correlated evolution of morphology and vocal signal structure in Darwin's finches. Nature   409: 185-188.

Hoese, W.J., Podos, J., Boetticher, N.C., and Nowicki, S. 2000. Vocal tract function in birdsong production: experimental manipulation of beak movements. Journal of Experimental Biology  203: 1845-1855.

Podos, J., Nowicki, S., and Peters, S. 1999. Permissiveness in the learning and development of song syntax in the swamp sparrow. Animal Behavior   58: 93-103.

Nowicki, S., Peters, S., and Podos, J. 1998. Song leaning, early nutrition, and sexual selection in songbirds. American Zoologist   38: 179-190.

Podos, J. 1997. A performance constraint on the evolution of trilled vocalizations in a songbird family (Passeriformes: Emberizidae). Evolution   51: 537-551.