Smithsonian Researcher Presents Program On Animal Communication at Denison
Posted: April 7, 2003
Denison's Provost Alumni Scholar Series will present Eugene Morton, a 1967 graduate of the University and now a senior research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, National Zoological Park, in a lecture titled "Animal Communication: Do Animals Use the Information Superhighway?" His talk is set for 7:30 p.m. on Monday (April 14) in the Slayter Hall Auditorium and is free and open to the public.
As an evolutionary biologist, Morton is interested in the adaptations of vocal signals among vertebrates, especially birds. He has been studying avian behavioral ecology and acoustic communication, especially in tropical birds, at the Smithsonian's Panama research station and in Pennsylvania. Morton's many contributions to this field includes the idea that the complexity of songs may not have evolved to permit the sender to convey more information, but in response to how sound travels through specific habitats and how listeners use songs to assess the location of the sender.
He also is investigating the role of traditions in setting patterns in breeding migratory birds. He has conducted paternity assessment via DNA fingerprinting and behavioral observations and, most recently, has been focused on avian blood parasites and fitness.
Morton will address the question of "information" in animal communication. What information is in this communication? Do animals use this information and if they don't use it, why do we think that they do? Morton suggests that the "information" concept, which interprets animal song linguistically, is not only incorrect, but also misleading and anthropomorphic. He will discuss the evolution of bird songs, the ranging concept, and the importance of the fact that birds can hear more of their songs than we can.
Morton will meet with students in Professor Tom Schultz's Animal Behavior class on Tuesday morning at Denison's Bio Reserve. "They will listen to local bird songs and learn from Dr. Morton how each song is specifically adapted to the environment in which it is sung," said Schultz. "Denison students still use a superb collection of bird skins that Morton prepared when he was a student here."
After graduation from Denison, Morton earned a master of science degree and his doctorate at Yale University. He has been a teaching assistant at the University of the Pacific, Cornell University and on faculty of the University of Maryland before joining the National Zoological Park as curator of birds in 1979. He has co-authored four books -- "Lords of the Air, The Smithsonian Book of Birds" in 1989 with Jake Page; "Animal Talk: Science and the Voices of Nature" in 1992 also with Jake Page; "The Evolution of Vocal Communication: a New Approach" in 1998 with D. H. Owings; and "Behavioral Ecology of Tropical Birds" in 2001 with B. J. M. Stutchbury.
Denison University, founded in 1831, is an independent, residential liberal arts institution located in Granville, Ohio. A highly selective college enrolling 2,100 full-time undergraduate students from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, Denison is a place where innovative faculty and motivated students collaborate in rigorous scholarship, civic engagement and the cultivation of independent thinking.
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