University of Georgia
My research focuses on understanding the proximate and ultimate mechanisms underlying primate vocal communication, most specifically topics include the constraints and flexibility in the structure and function of vocal signals, the selective forces that shape them and the cognitive abilities behind their use.
My work focuses on wild apes, and particularly western gorilla communication. Since the evolution of auditory genes has been linked to the evolution of language and the analysis of the gorilla genome indicates that several genes associated with hearing show patterns of evolution similar to those in humans, I believe the study of gorilla production and perception of vocal signals – up to now overlooked – becomes of crucial importance in the interdisciplinary efforts to ascertain the origin and evolution of human language.
For my doctoral dissertation, I focused on the vocal behavior of wild western gorillas to assess the role context-specific calls play in the vocal repertoire of a species, how ecological and social factors influence the species’ vocal communication system, the adaptive function of individual vocal cues, and the cognitive abilities behind the use of vocal signals facilitating group cohesion and coordination.