How does morphology affect phonation in Suboscine songbirds?

Raised of $2,750 Goal
Ended on 9/19/20
Campaign Ended
  • $200
  • 8%
  • Finished
    on 9/19/20

About This Project

In order to better understand the production of suboscine song, in the absence of vocal learning, a biometric analysis of select species of suboscines preserved at the American Museum of Natural History will be studied. 3D printed models will be created and phonation will be simulated with specialized equipment. Eventually, this data will be combined with computational methods to model a series of physical and physiological properties of simulated phonation.

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What is the context of this research?

The importance of understanding the physical and physiological properties of phonation in songbirds is a useful concept because of the homologous relationship of songs to human languages. However, songbirds have their own unique physiology and vocal-motor anatomy. This project is in relation to a Fulbright project that I will undertake next year in Argentina, where I will be studying vocal learning in non-learning songbirds. We don't yet know how suboscines fit into their acoustic niches, yet it has been suggested previously that morphology influences the acoustic properties of songs. By obtaining simulated phonation as well as biometric data, we can compare this data to what is know about the typical songs of suboscine species for further analysis.

What is the significance of this project?

The significance of this project is to elucidate the physical and physiological properties of phonation, by using experimental and computational methods to analyze data collected from preserved species of suboscine. This model and data sent will generate an archive for the statistical analysis of the relationship between body measurements, airflow dynamics, and species specific song characteristics. The 3D printed models will allow for different stages and intensities of expiration to be analyzed. This will allow us to better understand from differences in vocal production based on morphology, respiration, and potential source of variation in learning parameters between juvenile and tutors in early life experiences of these songbirds.

What are the goals of the project?

The goal of this project is a peer-reviewed published paper considering the differences in phonation in different species of suboscinces given their body measurements, simulated respiratory parameters, modeled airflow dynamics through an excised larynx chamber. Can this predict features of their songs during phonation?


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Services through the museum allow for some CT scan work to be completed on site at the American Museum of Natural History. Any additional work, will be done through the loan of items from the museum to departments at the University of Pittsburgh. The more money that is raised, the greater number of species we will be able to include in the study. It would be ideal if at least three different species of these birds could be used for the phonatory simulations for analysis. Any extra funds will go towards collecting biometric data for the collection of suboscines at the museum for further modeling.

Endorsed by

This is an exciting project by a promising researcher. The project identifies an important topic of research concerning the physiology of phonation via multidisciplinary approach.

Project Timeline

This project will begin once COVID restrictions have been lifted, and will take place as part-time volunteer work over the next year.

Aug 05, 2020

Project Launched

Sep 01, 2020

Preliminary Research Planning and Administrative Work

Oct 01, 2020

Biometric measurements of specimens from the AMNH

Nov 01, 2020

CT scans of available specimens (minimum of three)

Dec 01, 2020

Meshing for 3D structures using CT images

Meet the Team

Jenny Marie Michlich
Jenny Marie Michlich
Research Technician


University of Pittsburgh
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Jenny Marie Michlich

Hi! My name is Jenny and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh studying physical anthropology and neuroscience. I have a background in vocal-motor systems, the auditory system, functional morphology and comparative anatomy. I like to volunteer my time in research labs in my spare time and I love animal communication work especially in the field!

Additional Information

Project Backers

  • 7Backers
  • 8%Funded
  • $200Total Donations
  • $28.57Average Donation
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