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Sponsored by the OU President's Office, CBN, & the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Masakazu Konishi

Masakazu (Mark) Konishi


Bing Professor of Behavioral Biology, Caltech

National Academy of Sciences member




7 PM, Tuesday, October 5, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, 2401 Chautauqua Ave., Norman, OK 73072

Many animals produce sounds but few can imitate vocal signals. Man, parrots, and a large group of songbirds such as the American robin are the only vocal learners. In spring young birds memorize the song of their fathers or other males singing nearby. Young birds seem to have an innate ability to distinguish the song of their own species from those of other species living in the same area. Laboratory tests have shown that nestling songbirds would select the song of their own species in response to tape-playback of that song and the song of another species. If these birds are prevented from hearing the song of their own species during an early age of 2-3 months after hatching, they end up singing abnormal songs. This process is usually irreversible, that is, no amount of exposure to the normal song of their species can correct their song. The discovery of brain areas that control song production by Nottebohm and his associates in 1979 revolutionized the field of birdsong research. The song control system occurs only in the brain of song learners and is missing in non-learners such as the black-phoebe, even though this bird sings quite complex songs. Also, these brain areas are missing in the brain of female songbirds that do not sing. Another area of birdsong research that has advanced in recent years concerns the mechanisms of voice production.

Masakazu Konishi is Bing Professor of Behavioral Biology at the California Institute of Technology. He has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1985, and served as the president of the International Society for Neuroethology from 1986 to 1989. Konishi has received several awards for his work, including the Gerard Prize from the Society for Neuroscience (shared with Nobuo Suga), the Karl Spencer Lashley Award from the American Philosophical Society, and the Peter and Patricia Gruber Prize in Neuroscience (shared with Eric Knudsen), from the Society for Neuroscience.