Rebecca Calisi produced a must-see video (below) explaining the importance of bird research for understanding the brain. Please share it widely, because despite the obvious importance of bird research, there are still many who don’t get it, and misunderstandings and assumptions about bird researchers are rampant. As you will see, the video is geared toward those who are completely in the dark about bird research and those who conduct bird research.
We share so much in common with birds (ahem, evolution), and so our understanding of the brain, and especially hormone-brain interactions, has been shaped by bird biologists. Here are just a few examples…
- The first evidence for hormone effects on brain and behavior were performed by Berthold in the 1800s; he studied roosters. He didn’t call the secretions hormones, but his work marks the beginning of endocrinology (the study of hormones, like those that control puberty, sexual desire, and the hormones in oral contraceptives and cancer treatments) and neuroendocrinology (the study of how hormones affect the brain and nerves in the body).
- In the 1920’s Rowan discovered that day length (number of hours of light in a day) stimulates the reproductive hormones and behavior in dark-eyed juncos. This work initiated the field of seasonal biology and the effects of light and dark on mood, learning, depression, reproduction, and adaptation to seasons.
- In the 1960’s Hinde and Lehrman opened an entire field of research based on their evidence that hormone-behavior relations are reciprocal, that is, hormones affect behavior, but changes in behavior affect hormone secretion. This research was on ring doves and canaries, and lead to the study of how our behavior and cues from our peers influences our own internal secretions (such as testosterone, serotonin, and dopamine).
- Nottebohm and Konishi and their academic offspring made pivotal contributions to understanding how changes in brain cells (neurons) allow birds to learn songs of their own species, songs that they use to hold territories and compete for mating partners. This work with song birds is key to understanding how the brain learns and changes with experience including experiences with our sexual partners, experiences with stress and trauma (PTSD), and experiences with nurturing kindness from our caregivers.
- Schlinger and Brenowitz discovered that rapid changes in the brain and behavior involved the enzyme, aromatase, in specific parts of the brain. This work with zebra finches and other species, is important for understanding the underlying cellular mechanisms involved when hormones have rapid effects on behavior, and when the behaviors of one individual affect the behaviors of another. It’s also important for understanding how brain cells survive trauma.
Again, these are just a few examples of why bird is the word.